SAN FRANCISCO: As many as 14 million users of Facebook around the world could have shared posts unwittingly with the general public when they were intended for just friends or select groups, the company admitted last week.

According to a statement released by Erin Egan, chief privacy officer at Facebook, a software bug automatically changed users’ settings to public even if people usually kept their posts to a more restricted circulation, such as “friends of friends”.

While users still had the option of choosing their audience just as they always have been able to, the problem was that a lot of people who have become accustomed to their privacy settings may have overlooked the temporary public designation.

The glitch was active from May 18 to May 22, but Facebook wasn’t able to fix the problem until May 27, leading Egan to urge users to review any posts made during that time while assuring them that their settings have now reverted to what they were before.

“This bug occurred as we were building a new way to share featured items on your profile, like a photo. Since these featured items are public, the suggested audience for all new posts – not just these items – was set to public,” she said.

“The problem has been fixed, and for anyone affected, we changed the audience back to what they’d been using before.”

As The New York Times noted, Facebook did not explain how it discovered the software bug, nor how it knew the problem was limited to 14 million people.

But coming after a series of ongoing controversies about its handling of personal data, Facebook was keen to emphasise its new proactive and transparent approach when it comes to acknowledging mistakes.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that we need to be more transparent about how we build our products and how those products use your data – including when things go wrong. And that is what we are doing here,” Egan said.

Sourced from Facebook, The New York Times; additional content by WARC staff