Security

Friday Shame: Big Facebook bug exposed 6 million users’ data

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Image Credit: Ricardo Bilton

This story is the first in our “Friday Shame” series, where we take a second look at the often bad news companies announce on Friday afternoons. 

It’s a well-known notion in the media world that if you want to bury news, you announce it on a Friday afternoon.

Facebook, too, is aware of this, which likely explains why the company announced on Friday at 4:50 p.m. ET that a pretty massive bug had exposed the phone numbers and email addresses of 6 million Facebook users.

VentureBeat’s Meghan Kelly covered the somewhat confusing bug, which took contact information acquired via Facebook’s “Find Friends” tool and presented it alongside users’ actual Facebook information.

Facebook stores the contact information that you provide when you use the “Find Friends” tool. The Find Friends tool looks at your contact lists from your e-mail, Skype, iCloud, and other accounts and then suggests friends for you to add. The company says it helps them reduce the number of invitations that are sent out to people they hope will join Facebook.

Facebook, which discovered the bug days before the announcement, said that the delay was due to a “procedure stipulating that regulators and affected users be notified before making a public announcement,” as the company told the New York Times.

Facebook said it found no evidence that the bug had been used for wrongdoing, but “it’s still something we’re upset and embarrassed by, and we’ll work doubly hard to make sure nothing like this happens again,” it said.

While it’s obviously tough to prove that Facebook’s decision to announce the bug on a Friday afternoon was due to its desire to see the story disappear as soon as possible, it’s not difficult to see why this would be the case.

The last time Facebook announced something controversial on a Monday was Dec. 17, 2012, when it introduced some now-infamous changes to Instagram’s Terms of Service. While Facebook eventually reversed its position on the change, that didn’t prevent a mass exodus from the service, according to numbers from tracking app AppData.

That episode, if nothing else, shows what happens when everyone’s paying attention to big, important news: They react, which, in situations like latest Facebook bug, is rarely the most desired outcome.

Image illustration credit: Ricardo Bilton/VentureBeat