A week after Facebook executives introduced new security features to great fanfare, a glitch on the popular social networking site has exposed private pictures of Paris Hilton to anyone with an internet connection.
The Associated Press, which broke the story, was able to use the same, er, hole to view Italian vacations, office gatherings and holiday parties, all which had been designated as private by the people who had posted them. The AP even browsed through a personal photo album Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted in November 2005. We assume the album displayed shots of Zuckerberg being aloof with his family and co-workers.
It was only last week that Facebook rolled out new settings meant to give users tighter control over who can access the content they put on profile pages. Facebook execs specifically touted the increased ability to restrict photo albums and contacts to all but a select number of people designated as friends.
But according to blog posts, this feature was easily circumvented by guessing the ID of a photo. Facebook, according to the posts, didn't bother to check for user permissions, and it even gave hints about what the ID of recent photos might be. While the loophole had been circulating for weeks, Byron Ng, a computer technician from Vancouver, was credited with bringing it to light.
This isn't the first time a social networking site has leaked information it promised to keep private. In June, it was disclosed that Facebook was divulging users' political views, religious background and other sensitive details to the world at large even when that information was supposed to be given only to a user's designated friends. MySpace has made similar gaffes.
All of which serves as a reminder that we'd do well to bring a healthy dose of skepticism to any online purveyor's promise to keep digital information private. Once the information is out, it's out forever and could potentially be available to prospective employers, police and future spouses. If the snapshots, contacts or other data are sensitive enough to be designated private, it might be better to keep them off a free social networking site altogether.
Facebook appears to have closed the loophole several hours after the story broke. We're still searching for the Paris Hilton pics and will be grateful to anyone who can direct us toward one. ®