Facebook shares plunge amid rumours of privacy breach

The social network saw its market value cut by a tenth after reports of private messages appearing for public view

LAST UPDATED AT 12:26 ON Tue 25 Sep 2012

FACEBOOK has been forced to act quickly to deny a damaging online rumour that it was making its users' private messages available to the public, after it caused the social network's already-fragile share price to lose almost a tenth of its value on the New York stock exchange on Monday.

Reports began circulating yesterday that messages from 2007 onwards, which had originally been classified as non-public, had begun to appear on public timelines. According to The Guardian, the rumour prompted a flood of worried Facebook users to check their accounts to ensure that they were not broadcasting their secrets online.

The panic was enough to wreak havoc on the market value of the tech giant, which is still trying to recover from its dismal stock market flotation. Since its initial public offering in May shares have slumped 45 per cent from the launch price of $38. Facebook shares closed at $20.79 yesterday, down 9.1 per cent on the day's starting price.

The social network, which has come under fire for its record on privacy, launched an investigation into the claims, but found nothing. "Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users' profile pages," said a spokesperson. "Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy."

However Facebook's claim was immediately called into question by some users. Poppy Dinsey, owner of fashion social network What I Wore Today, told the BBC :"There are messages I've got on my wall that are most definitely private messages! From 2006 all the way up to 2012. I'm 100 per cent sure by content and from memory."

But Guardian blogger Katie Jones suggested that perhaps the problem wasn't with Facebook but with the users of the service. Recalling the early days of the network, Jones said that she and her friends would often post telephone numbers and messages about personal experiences, such as going to a medical centre in 2008, on public walls.

"In the early days of Facebook, we were lulled into a false sense of security. We thought our medical histories and friends-only posts were sacred and private and would never be archived or, possibly, used against us," Jones wrote.

"I can only imagine that other than being confused by unclear design, those who today mistook private messages for public have memories that don't stretch back to the golden days of Facebook free love, when we were all too excited to know any better." · 

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