Latest Facebook Privacy Violation – It is Now Broadcasting Conversations by Publishing The Content of Recent Activity

There was a time when one of your Facebook account or privacy settings allowed you to disable your “recent activity” from appearing in the newsfeed or on your wall. That went away sometime in the latest year (with profile update 10102029309808098, I think). Facebook completely removed the option to hide your recent activity and instead what you now saw was something like “Bobbi Newman wrote on John Doe’s wall” I and a lot of other people were annoyed by this. I don’t need Facebook notifying all my friends each time I talk to one of them. Some people just learned to deal with the feed, others like me, deleted all of this activity when they get back to a computer.

Last week Facebook started rolling out its latest and greatest profile update. At first I was merely annoyed with it. Why is my job, education, current city, hometown and langauge front and center on my profile. Don’t my friends already know this? It really felt like another push from Facebook to be The One Site. It bothered me because I know a lot of  new people are using Facebook everyday, people who don’t understand Facebook’s privacy settings, agenda and policies.  They aren’t looking to showcase their work they are looking to connect with friends and family, and Facebook is pushing them to use the site professionally. Something we know will most likely not end well.

Tonight I noticed something new instead of saying  “Bobbi Newman wrote on John Doe’s wall” it actually tells you exactly what I wrote. Even if you are not friends with John Doe. Even if his account is set to private.


I know there are people who will say – if you don’t want it see don’t post it. Whatever. They are missing the point. The point is this – That while this conversation may have taken place in a quasi-public sphere there is NO indication that I wanted this conversation broadcast. (I could argue that if my friends page is private and locked down that this was a private conversation but let’s just call it quasi-private since it happened on Facebook)

We seem to run into the same issue with Facebook’s privacy settings over and over. There is a huge difference in something being publicly available and it being publicized.

Think of it this way you and I are sitting in a coffee shop having a conversation at a table. This is a public venue so our conversation is happening in a public place, but it is just us and we’re conversing quietly so we have an assumption of some level of privacy. Now the guy next to us on his laptop with his headphones on could be listening but chances are he is not. So while this conversation is public it is not being broadcast or recorded.

Now imagine we are sitting in the same coffee shop in the same scenario and the guy at the table next to us is not only listening but he is recording our conversation and broadcasting it to people in the coffee shop and people on the street.

The first scenario accurately reflects how people treat Facebook conversations, we know we’re in public but we assume (right or wrong) that no one is listening or recording. Which is easy to do on Facebook despite past experiences because so much falls off the page in a few days and you forget it ever happened.  What Facebook is doing in this latest update is the later scenario.

Even worse you’re given NO choice. I know there has been a lot of controversy of some of Facebook’s Privacy changes over the last couple of years but in most cases you could change your settings to modify these problems. In this case you can not. Facebook is now broadcasting all of your conversations.

What really kills me is I was looking for stories on this issue and I can’t find any. No one seems to care. Maybe we’re so used to being violated by Facebook we don’t even notice any more.

More about this issue:

Read more about Facebook and privacy in general

51 thoughts on “Latest Facebook Privacy Violation – It is Now Broadcasting Conversations by Publishing The Content of Recent Activity

    1. @librarianbyday I care. I prob won’t converse on FB to avoid that recent activity sharing.I do it from my phone so deleting isnt an option


    2. RT @librarianbyday: Facebook’s Latest Privacy Violation–It is Now Broadcasting Your Conversations by Publishing The Content Of Your Rece …


    3. RT @librarianbyday: Facebook’s Latest Privacy Violation–It is Now Broadcasting Your Conversations by Publishing The Content Of Your Rece …


  1. I go back and forth trying to decide whether to stay on FB or not. I think I make better professional contacts on Twitter. I don’t put a lot into my FB account, I share information minimally and only friend professional materials. OK, I friend a few places for personal reasons, too! What I don’t like about FB is that is provides a complete online profile of me in one place: all know contacts, personal history, tastes/preferences and probably enough for a psychological profile. Why make it that easy for anyone?


  2. I’m so happy you wrote this. I just noticed this change the other day, and this is EXACTLY how I feel. This is ridiculous. FB privacy violations are just one after the other, and you’re right – people don’t care anymore. I guess I will have to limit my interaction to the bare minimum and keep deleting everything I do afterwards, but I really hate FB. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about this, because I think eventually everything will be public by default (and they’ll probably make you pay for privacy settings – who knows, but I’m trying to think like Mark Zuckerberg). It’s sad – I signed up in 2005 when it was still for college students, and the privacy settings were impeccable. Since I have now added contacts I want to keep in touch with from every stage in my life (with some of those contact groups I would like to keep separate from others, personal vs. professional, etc.), and then had those privacy settings gradually stripped away, I feel severely duped by FB.


  3. The crappy thing about all this is that not enough people care to do anything. I’ve shared this with folks in my network. I do NOT want people knowing everything I do on the damn thing. FB is great for business but let’s leave that to other social networking sites. C’mon guys get with the program. People DON’T like what you all are doing. Learn something and go to Zappo’s! Geez! 😉 Great post! I subscribed.


  4. I rarely look at my profile page and until you wrote this I hadn’t seen this. My use of FB is very limited. My profile only has my name and gender and I have 20 friends. And you are right – aside from the privacy stuff, this seems so redundant. You know you talked to John Doe, John Doe knows you talked to him, why is this even on there?


  5. This is why I stripped out nearly all info from my profile after the last improvement. I have a birthday sans year, one book like, three website/organization likes, and that is it. Nothing about school, work, or where I live at all. Mostly I post status updates about my dog. I like to read what my friends and colleagues put up, but don’t like to share much. I do not have the time to monitor all of Facebook’s improvements that seem to chip away at my privacy. The next thing I need to think about is google/gmail and what accounts I have with them. Way too much power (for lack of a better term) in one place there.


  6. I think you can change the visibility of your own comments on other people’s stuff by going to Privacy settings – Things I Share – Posts by Me. I just changed mine from Everyone to Friends, and will see how that goes.

    Although I think it’s clutter, I was OK with people seeing my comments on other people’s Wall/photos/etc. as long as we were all connected as friends. I do NOT want my comments on protected accounts (like, oh, my daughter’s) broadcast to my network. Nothing salacious going on; it’s just none of their business when I’m bugging her to study for finals or something.

    Facebook really is getting evil.


  7. Huh. I had presumed that this was not an enormous change over the previous — reducing to zero clicks what once took one (or not even, since you still need to click through to read longer things). But if it shows content regardless of the privacy settings on the other person’s wall, that’s more worrisome. Do you have a cite for that claim? Or did you test it? Perhaps I shall run off to test it now…


    1. Andromeda of course I tested it before I made the statement in the post. I also searched extensively through FB’s own help section and the forums. There is no way to stop this from happening.


      1. I’m just puzzled because I haven’t been able to find an example that I can see where this is true; all of the activity that I’m seeing excerpted on friends’ pages is activity that I have full rights to see if I click through. Of course it’s possible that most people have default privacy settings that would allow that anyway (and I would, ironically, therefore have to spend way too much time stalking people to determine whether this is a new privacy violation). I wish I could see an example of behavior that violates my expectations for this, but I suppose the examples visible to you aren’t necessarily visible to me so it’s hard for you to point me at one.

        I am sympathetic to danah boyd’s point about available vs. publicized — that’s one I’ve had my own interactions with — I just don’t find this particular change triggers my squick reaction on that front. Can you point me at a place in the FB help or elsewhere that shows that this makes content visible that would not otherwise have been?


        1. I’m sorry that you don’t seem to be able to duplicate the issue.
          I took several screenshots of this including the one picture above. You can also see that several of the commenters have experienced it.


      2. For instance, the page you linked to — — suggests to me that this feature displays exactly the privacy filtering that I would expect it to:

        “Whether we display a story on your profile is now controlled by the privacy of the content itself, rather than an additional setting. For example, only people who can see both your Wall, and the Wall to which you posted would be able to see a story about you writing on a friend’s Wall.”

        This sounds to me like it isn’t making any content available that wasn’t previously available. It’s marginally more obvious, but I don’t think it’s a qualitative difference in obviousness from the previous regime. (Compared to, say, the See Friendship thing, which makes it dramatically easier to access large volumes of content in context — that really does trip my publicly available vs. easily available sense.) This reduces by one click — sometimes — the effort needed to see a small snippet of content — which you might have already encountered in your news feed anyway — and which otherwise you would only have seen if you were already the kind of person to go to people’s profiles instead of just reading your news feed — and if you ARE that type of person, was the extra one click really stopping you?

        Perhaps I misunderstand the point you’re making, but I think we just disagree. I am quick to be up in arms over any number of privacy violations and Facebook hubris, but I do not see any way that Facebook is violating my expectations here.


        1. Actually it is. It is displaying on my wall a comment I left a on a friends wall which you can see even if you are not friends with that individual.

          It is also an issue of broadcasting these comments even if they were previous happening in “public”. See my coffee shop analogy in the post for an explanation of this.


          1. Thanks for pointing this out Bobbi!
            I think Andromeda might be suffering from the same confusion I initially had when I read this post. I thought you were referring to the news feed (not an error on your part, but just an error on my mind set), and the news feed does look like it always did. The problem arises when you view a friend’s actual profile wall, and yes you can see everything that person wrote and vice versa. Very disturbing!


          2. Saw this linked from AllFacebook’s comments and thought I’d jump in. IPretty sure Andromeda’s right about this. Facebook hasn’t changed what comments you can or can’t see at all. A comment only appears to you on someone’s wall if you’re able to click through the comment to see it. After they launched this, I tested by loading up a bunch of friend profiles and clicking through to what they commented on.

            I think for your coffee shop analogy, all they really did was move the tables a lot closer together so it’s easier for people to hear each other. But, it wouldn’t be fair to say that the coffee shop is a bunch of strangers. For most people on FB, only your friends can see your wall and what you commented on. So in this case the coffee shop moved all your tables closer together, because it knew that you and a bunch of friends were sitting together and wanted to make it easer for you to hear each other.

            For the being able to see a comment, even though the wall’s locked down, this took me a while to figure out, Andromeda’s link to the FB faq helped me figure it out. When you post stuff to your profile you can change the privacy of the post (“everyone,” “only friends,” etc). So that’s why someone viewing your profile can see certain comments of yours, because what you commented on was probably posted as “everyone.”


  8. This sums up exactly how I felt when I first noticed this Friday. I posted a status update about it to see if anybody knew about it and only a few people even said anything. I know full well that everything on there is monitored, but your analogy of the coffee shop was spot on. I even tested the privacy settings to view my page as people that I have specific settings not to be able to view everything (like former co-workers), and it can still be seen. The only recourse seems to be the tedious task of deleting it all manually. I’m seriously thinking of canceling it myself and I use it everyday.


  9. I have taken most of the FB changes in stride but this one really bugs the crap out of me. There is a big difference between seeing that I wrote on a person’s wall and quoting what I wrote.


  10. I just noticed this over the weekend. It’s one thing to show I posted on someone’s wall. It’s another to show exactly what I posted. It’s such a hassle and not everyone and their mom’s business. Whenever I’m near a computer, I delete the comments I’ve made on people’s pictures and posts. I shouldn’t have to do this though.


  11. I just googled privacy FB issues and yours is the first post to come up. I have several friends that have disabled comments on all their wall posts to honor the privacy of their friends. In other words they are not using FB until this issue is resolved. It’s very creepy because they are rolling out the changes so slowly that people like me (my account hasn’t been changed yet) apparently can’t even tell that my comments are readable through friends of friends. Just wanted you to know lots of people care, but probably need a forum to complain to FB about it.


    1. Looks like this was published this morning after my post.

      I just tested this using the “preview how your profile looks to…” option, the content of my comments is showing up on my wall and I’m 99.9% certain that my settings are correct. I wish they would provide a link or clearer instruction on how to stop this from happening because I just don’t see it.


  12. Wow I think many people did get used to it. Or – which is far worse – they do not know about it. And if there are privacy issues with facebook all the time and you’re not really in this whole “computer thing” than I can imagine you stop caring after a while.


  13. Have you seen this? Interesting to click on 2005 and then on 2010:

    As a non-Facebook user, as I have a little sympathy for people who signed up in 2005 and have had the rug pulled from under them numerous times, but have built up a network they can’t afford to be without. But anyone signing up in 2010 really deserves what they get – if you willingly sign up to an entirely optional and do-without-able network which makes no claims *not* to be evil, consistently abuses privacy and has not one tiny percenantage of its users’ interests at heart, of course you’re going to get screwed – over and over again, until something really significant happens and you decide to cancel your account.

    If this were a romantic relationship, then your friends (and I don’t mean you specifically Bobbi – Facebook users generally) would be telling you to get out.


    1. Ned I think this may be the first time we’ve disagreed on something. I think if you’re a tech savvy individual like you or I what you said applies. But you need to remember how big your bubble (or echo chamber is) The average Joe doesn’t understand how badly Facebook is abusing privacy. The site I see writing about this each time it happens are tech site. My non-lib/non-tech friends have never even heard of them. While I watch my library & techie friends get up in arms each time and in some cases abandon it FB my other friends barely bat an eye. Add to that the number of older even less savvy users (like my parents) who joined to see what their family and friends are doing and its much more complicated.

      No one is telling the average Joe when and how Facebook violates their privacy. The average Joe doesn’t understand FB’s vast web of complicated privacy setting. I am in no way implying that the Average Joe is stupid, just that you and I have forgotten how far we’ve come how much we know and how much time we spending thinking and writing about things like this compared to the rest of the world.


      1. Yep, you’re absolutely right.

        I think that basically I was aiming my comment at people like you or I! And it does baffle me that so many people stick with Facebook despite knowing how evil it is. But of course there’s a much bigger issue, which is that the wider populace are unaware of just how much potential Facebook has for causing them problems down the line.

        I think online privacy in general is like a lot of things (global warming, for example) in that it will take something catastrophic to make most people wake up and take notice and start truly trying to address the issues.

        It feels like we need some kind of Citizen’s Advic Bureau for social media, in the meantime.


        1. I can say the reason I stick with it is that privacy issues aside it is the easiest way to stay connected with family and friends. Professionally it is still the easiest way to stay connected too.


  14. Greetings Bobbi,

    Interesting post.

    You’re correct that there is no way to prevent Recent Activity from being generated and posted to your Wall. They can be deleted, but not prevented.

    However… if you want to limit this type of interaction from being “broadcast” then you should examine — Privacy Settings / Applications, Games and Websites / Info accessible through your friends.

    Deselect all of the options and it will limit the interactions that your friends can share about you (with non-mutual friends) when you comment on their profiles. Such interactions will no longer be “broadcast” into non-mutual friend’s News Feeds / Top Stories.

    Alternatively, you can disable everything by turning off Facebook’s platform.

    I live in Finland and only use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends back home in the USA. I have no use for third-party applications and having the platform completely disabled doesn’t affect my user experience in any significant way.

    Additional thoughts:

    I’ve read that this feature is in beta, so some of your readers may not be able to reproduce with their profiles.

    I often follow activity links to see what else non-mutual friends (friends of friends) share, and I have *never* seen activity that I couldn’t have seen otherwise by manually trolling.

    Based on your post, it seems that your definition of “privacy” is heavily focused on “secrecy”. I don’t think it’s Facebook’s job to keep all of your interactions secret. It is a social network after all. I’d be interested in reading your definition of privacy.

    Your example includes a coffee shop. I like that (I often use a similar example). But you only offer two scenarios regarding the guy at the next table. Either he isn’t listening at all… or he is recording/broadcasting. But what if the guy at the next table is a friend of your friend, but doesn’t know you? And he isn’t actively listening to your conversation, but occasionally he hears a sentence or two? This seems more like the analog to me. Facebook isn’t the guy at the next table, it’s the coffee shop.



    1. Sean
      You said: “Based on your post, it seems that your definition of “privacy” is heavily focused on “secrecy”. I don’t think it’s Facebook’s job to keep all of your interactions secret. It is a social network after all. I’d be interested in reading your definition of privacy.”

      I don’t think its a matter of secrecy rather private information being broadcast. Think of privacy vs secrecy this way, it is no secret that we all use the restroom however this is information that we would rather keep private. Keeping something private doesn’t make it a secret.

      You said: “Facebook isn’t the guy at the next table, it’s the coffee shop.”

      Only if the coffee shop is recording and broadcasting my conversation.

      You said: “Either he isn’t listening at all… or he is recording/broadcasting. But what if the guy at the next table is a friend of your friend, but doesn’t know you? And he isn’t actively listening to your conversation, but occasionally he hears a sentence or two? This seems more like the analog to me.”

      I would say this is closer to the old way Facebook worked. When FB allowed the option to not post recent activity (which was 2 updates ago, I think) that was the person (or my friends friend) occasionally hearing a sentence. Now that they are posting the content of your recent activity and you can not opt out they are actively listening and broadcasting.


      1. If I’m the guy sitting at the next table… I’m going to see you walk to the restroom. Your action broadcasts itself. It isn’t a secret. I can see you. But I don’t physically follow you into the restroom, that would violate your privacy.

        Facebook is the “public space” as is the coffee shop a “public space”.

        Most coffee shops that I frequent have a video security system. And so they are recording me in that sense. (Hardly any “public” space is “private” in that sense.) If you use a credit card to buy your coffee, the transaction is recorded. Need to provide the police with an alibi for your whereabouts? The coffee shop isn’t going to keep your transaction a secret. But they aren’t likely violate your privacy by tacking your receipt to the counter for all to see.

        If I’m sitting in the coffee shop, I can be seen by other patrons, my being there isn’t a secret, and the shop doesn’t offer me the expectation of secrecy (neither does or did Facebook). If the coffee shop has a “customer of the month” wall… that’s broadcasting a relationship. Posting my picture to the wall without asking me first, that’s a violation of my privacy.

        That said, I have to say that I preferred the option of not generating activity posts. I delete mine from my Wall.

        But as I noted, you can limit the broadcasting using the privacy settings. (Those particular settings are simply not understood or written about very much. Check them out.)

        Yes, the coffee shop has evolved (re: old Facebook vs new) but I don’t think it has happened so quickly as to make me feel “violated”.

        I have to agree with Sandra: “I have never assumed that anything that I wrote or said on Facebook was private. I keep my profile minimal and if I want a private conversation I send it through a message or my own email or call.”



        1. Sean
          I would say I’m a master at Facebook Privacy settings, but should anyone really need to be?

          I would argue that this isn’t about secrecy but the difference between something that happens in a public place being broadcast, then is becomes a privacy issue. If you announce to everyone in the coffee shop each time I make a trip to the restroom or announcing every purchase that I make you are violating my reasonable exception of privacy and harassing me this is what Facebook is doing.

          I’m going to ignore the “if you don’t want it publicized/broadcast don’t post it” argument as I find this misses the point of the problem entirely.


  15. I agree it’s a bit creepy, but I’m actually really enjoying seeing some of the comments on my friends’ profiles. It makes me want to look at their content more.

    According to their help center FAQ, you can’t see comments unless you can also see the post or photo that was commented on. So I think that may be confusing. It was at least for me.

    Hmm I think maybe over time this will be a neat feature to have.


  16. The other day I was trying to make my ‘education and work’ information part of my profile private and viewable to only friends by changing my privacy settings. Only then did I realise that I could not change the privacy settings for ‘education and work’ anymore. It is displayed for everyone to see and I CAN’T CHANGE IT BACK! (Im 100% certain i could change that setting a few months back) What gives? this is beyond ridiculous now, guess ill just delete that information instead.

    As for the new feature displaying full text for comments, I just comment with a ” ——————– ” before writing the proper message. Bit tedious but at least it will be private for only mutual friends to see it if they want to.

    I completely agree with the sentiments on here about facebook sneakily hacking away at our privacy without our consent or informing us. I just wish more people would get more angry about this, although ironically i don’t really share much on facebook anyway, but the ideals of privacy are far more important to me. I just feel like screaming “im mad as hell and i cant take it anymore” and maybe just delete facebook.


  17. I don’t think it’s that people don’t care, I think they just haven’t noticed yet. I just noticed it myself last night and I’m plenty PO’d about it. Is there somewhere we can directly complain to facebook about this? As it is I’m just trying to join every group in Facebook protesting it.


  18. Protect your privacy, don’t make it public. Delete Facebook. Facebookers are nothing more than little test rats running on a wheel for some company’s product. You’re a marketing test group to them.


  19. This is very true and it also makes me angry. People seem not to care, for whatever reasons… Also, I do not like at all that my profile picture is public, although I set it up to “friends only” in the privacy settings.


  20. Thanks for posting. I’m concerned about my privacy on FB because lately I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisement on tv advising the public to be more conservative about their postings because we don’t know who may be going through their FB acct. Employers, colleges & universities, etc. I think this is ridiculous! My performance @ work has nothing to do with what I do in my personal time! Furthermore, this is open discrimination!


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