After rumours emerged on Monday evening that private messages were being displayed on Facebook users’ walls, the internet was up in arms about the latest privacy issue to be related to the social networking giant. A number of reports, most of which originated from France, suggested that messages from 2009 were being posted to users’ walls and were therefore visible to all users.
On Tuesday, Facebook came out and declared that this was untrue, stating that every message it had investigated was simply an old wall message which its users had forgotten about, therefore assuming they must have been private messages. The company said it had checked very report and found them all to be entirely false, adding: "A lot of the confusion is because before 2009 there were no likes and no comments on wall posts. People went back and forth with wall posts instead of having a conversation."
The users in France had been concerned that messages which appeared to have been sent between 2007 and 2009 were suddenly made public; something which alarmed a great number of Facebook users around the world. Facebook responded by saying that there was no way in which private messages could be published to a user’s wall due to them being handled completely separately by Facebook’s servers. Despite this, a number of users are still sure that a number of their wall posts were originally private messages.
The news comes on the same day that US financial publication Barron’s declared that Facebook’s public stock was only worth somewhere in the region of $15 per share - well below the flotation price of $38 per share; a price which has fallen drastically since the company was floated earlier this year. Shares ended down on Wall Street by 9.1% to $20.79, having fallen more than 11% earlier in the day. Although Facebook was only floated in May, its price has plunged more than 40% in just four months, worrying investors all around the world.
The social networking giant has not been without its recent controversy, much of which has been related to privacy issues which continue to dog the company. The introduction and implementation of a controversial facial-recognition tool which would automatically tag Facebook users in photographs uploaded to its website caused uproar in many circles, with a number of users saying it breached their privacy and control over their own photographs and which images would be available to their friends and work colleagues.
This week, Facebook announced that it was suspending the facial-recognition tool in Europe in order to concentrate its efforts on implementing changes recommended by the Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland last year. The tool will be discontinued for users in Europe by 15th October and is already unavailable to new users signing up for Facebook accounts in the interim. The feature was also criticised in Germany, with German data privacy authorities opening an investigation into the facial recognition tool.
The feature, named Photo Tag Suggest, uses facial recognition algorithms in order to work out who is in a picture based on previously-tagged photographs of that person. The system was introduced to make uploading and tagging photos much easier, as it is often seen as a time-consuming and laborious aspect of Facebook profile management. Users are able to opt out of using the feature, but critics have said this does not go far enough and have demanded that the database should be destroyed in its entirety.
For a company which was valued at over $100bn just four months ago, the road has been a rocky one and CEO Mark Zuckerberg certainly has a number of issues which he will need to address in order to assuage investors in his company, who are likely to be worried at the news of more controversy for Facebook and a number of problems which have meant that the stock price for the technology company has nosedived by over 40%. Many critics think the company will never manage to reach its flotation price and have advised against investing in the social media giant. Others, however, see it as a minor blip and are buying up shares at what they see as a rock bottom price.
By Chelsey Evans