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Facebook private status updates made public by Storify

Private status updates on Facebook by private users and in secret or private groups are never private, especially with the help of Storify.

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Private social media updates made public through Storify

Julie Pippert, Founder and Director of Artful Media Group, known speaker and communications expert shared with AGBeat how she discovered what she believes to be a flaw in the popular service, Storify, making selected private Facebook status updates from personal profiles, private and secret groups visible to anyone and completely public.

Storify is a free content curation tool wherein users can pull social elements like photos, videos, and status updates from social networks, combining them into one single embeddable widget that is perfect for bloggers and digital publishers, telling the story of an event in its entirety through social reactions. It’s a clever and popular service that brags, “streams flow, but stories last.”

Unfortunately, that has been proven true of private Facebook status updates, no matter a user’s privacy settings, as using the Storify app to grab updates immediately pulls not only the quote from the status update, but the user’s profile picture which is linked to their account, the timestamp of the original status update on Facebook, and the original link.

Below is what a user with the Storify Google Chrome Extension sees on an update I posted in a Secret Facebook Group (note the word “Storify” which is the mechanism that immediately pulls all of the aforementioned data into Storify):

storify

When published in Storify, it appears like so (embedded using the Storify code provided by the service):

This is an example taken from a Secret Facebook Group comprised of a handful of very close friends, where we talk about sensitive health issues each of us have, which would obviously be detrimental for the public to see.

Now, if you are not a member of the secret group, you cannot see anything else inside of the group or who the members are, you do not have additional access to other status updates, but my face and name are now associated with a sensitive topic that the public can see, should another group member have innocently pulled the update as they saw it in their timeline, not realizing it was from the group, or simply not thinking Storify would authorize such a move.

Storify users can only pull status updates from people they are connected with socially, but their privacy settings matter not, and they can pull in status updates from private groups to which they belong, and while none of this offers a window into those users’ accounts or into the secret groups, the Storify tool can turn private Facebook updates public, even if only one at a time.

The discovery of the ability to bypass privacy settings

Pippert discovered this bypass through what she calls a “faux pas accident” by using the Storify app, sharing a friend’s Facebook update who felt her privacy settings were as private as they could possibly get, surprising both women at how easily a private account could become public, even if it was only one status update.

“I felt so terrible about what happened that I started digging and checking,” Pippert said, “and I figured out that although anything can be copied, screen captured or otherwise shared, anyone who installs the Storify app can do it with one click, even if it is marked or otherwise set to be private.”

Pippert explains that she shared a friend’s update about Superstorm Sandy which was very heartwarming, but when she notified her friend, both were alarmed that it could be used publicly, and no matter the content, her friend did not want her name used publicly, which is often the case for executives or government employees whose contracts forbid them from commenting publicly to the press or otherwise.

No notification, reminder, or restriction

Neither Storify or Facebook offered any notification that the content was in any way restricted or private, and there is no way for users to opt out of their content being shared on Storify, even if implied via their ultra private settings on their Facebook account.

“I really like storify and it is so useful, especially with the Chrome app, for capturing content for my job and topics that matter in my work. It’s incredibly efficient,” said Pippert. But she notes that “End of day, you just have to be prepared to have some of your content used beyond in your little sphere. But the people using it have a responsibility too. What that is isn’t exactly clear in every case. We do all have to be responsible with content we put out through social media, even privately. My friend put out great content that reflected well on her. But she didn’t want her name out there publicly.”

“Storify enabled me to nearly bypass that, against her wishes,” Pippert said. “After we talked, I offered to remove her quote.”

What about private accounts on Twitter?

When a Storify app user clicks “Storify” next to a public Twitter user’s update as a means of adding that update to their Storify stream, the following appears:

storify

And when a user attempts to Storify a private user’s update, it doesn’t offer any explanation or notice that you cannot do such a thing on a private user’s account, rather it turns the screen black like so:

private twitter update

Secret Facebook Group updates no longer secret

We noticed some major differences between how Storify reacts to private Twitter updates and Facebook updates, with users being able to read Facebook status updates in a Storify stream that would otherwise be private.

If your company has a Secret Facebook Group where you collaborate, your prayer group has a Private Facebook Group where you share personal intentions, or your friends have a Secret Facebook Group to talk about their abusive husbands, all of that is private within Facebook, but Storify grabs the information, and it becomes a Storify update with all of the attached data.

Take note that the embedded status update above has actually been deleted from Facebook, yet you can still see it on Storify. That is troubling. Here is a screenshot in the event someone at either company tweaks something and it disappears.

It’s time to look at the connection between Storify and Facebook

While there is not likely any malice by Storify here, or even Facebook in how they structure data differently than Twitter, the ability to inadvertently share private information is all too easy with Storify, and Facebook, who is famous for keeping data on their servers even after users delete photos and the like. It’s not in Facebook’s interest to get rid of any data points, as their bread and butter is ad dollars based on aggregated data, and it is not in Storify’s interest to get rid of data points, as they paint an accurate picture of a user’s status update, unfiltered.

Pippert concludes, “It might ultimately be a human problem to solve: capture content from others mindfully and use it thoughtfully, with good communication. Let others know you’re using the content and make sure you are clear to friends your preference about your content being redistributed.”

This is yet another reminder that anything you say anywhere on the web, private or not, is always subject to being shared via third party apps, screenshots, or good old fashioned copy and paste, so never say something online that you wouldn’t say in public, because there really is no such thing as privacy, which is sad and unacceptable, but true.

Regardless of human behavior, the connection between Twitter and Storify proves there are ways to actually protect private information, so it is clearly time to examine the connection between Facebook and Storify.

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More reading:

Storify Co-Founder implies nothing on Facebook is private
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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Scott Baradell

    January 18, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Excellent, Lani and Julie!

  2. AmyVernon

    January 18, 2013 at 9:26 am

    So glad you wrote about this and Julie tested it out. It once again shows that nothing you write online is truly private. As Julie rightfully pointed out, anyone could screenshot or otherwise share a post at any time, but it takes extra effort and would have to be done purposefully. But with the way the newsfeed is set up, you could easily Storify something that shows up in your newsfeed, not even realizing it’s not public.

    I don’t blame Storify for this – they’re using the API Facebook gives them. Facebook needs to shore this up.

    • Erika Napoletano

      January 18, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Here, here, Amy. Another Facebook privacy issue — when will these be a thing of the past?

    • Julie Pippert

      January 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm

      Yeah, Facebook needs to recognize we’re going to want to use third party apps. I don’t want Storify blocked; I do want better collaboration tat lets it be in line with FB settings.

      That’s exactly what happened — I easily Storified something from the newsfeed, not knowing it was not public.

      I learned my lesson and try to be cautious, and I still use and am a fan of Storify. I just want my confidence back in respecting privacy settings.

  3. Burt Herman

    January 18, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for the post and I very much agree with your conclusion — anything posted online in a way that others can see it could be copied, so you should think carefully what you write online. (Or even in an email, for that matter, that could also be easily copied).

    This isn’t a technology issue as much as an etiquette issue. Now that everyone has the power to easily publish to the whole world, we all need to think about how to use that power.

    • Danny Brown

      January 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      Surely the etiquette should be for technology API’s to respect privacy settings and be unable to let users post private group updates, no?

      • Burt Herman

        January 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

        It’s up to you to decide what to share online, and whether to trust the people who can see what you share.

        • Danny Brown

          January 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm

          Right. And when it’s to me, I choose to be part of a Facebook Group that’s private. So, it should now be up to any technology scraping feeds to recognize and respect private settings. Maybe something for you guys and Facebook to work out…

          • Burt Herman

            January 18, 2013 at 4:20 pm

            We don’t show anything to people who can’t see it already on Facebook. Only other people in that group can see it, so it’s up to you whether you trust them not to share what you post more widely.

          • Danny Brown

            January 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

            You’re missing the point here, Burt – you are showing it to people who aren’t part of that private Facebook group, because you’re allowing these posts to be shown in a public Storify stream. I trust the people I’m part of a private group with – i don’t trust technology that ignores privacy settings who say “Don’t blame us if we post private stuff because someone in the group shared it.”

            API’s can recognize privacy settings (why do you think social scoring tools primarily have to use public Twitter feeds for their scores versus private conversations and communities?). It’s easy to shift blame, it’s less easy to do the right thing and build technology that filters private settings and blocks sharing. But the reward for any companies doing this is more than worth the effort.

        • Julie Pippert

          January 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm

          Not that simple IMHO. We get used to Facebook restricting us from sharing private content. You can trust people and trust privacy, yet accidentally or innocently share. I learned a lesson the hard way. There’s a point to that.

      • Julie Pippert

        January 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        That’s a great point, Danny! The tools do need to respect the privacy settings. We can use caution–such as choosing words wisely, setting privacy, being in private groups, etc. But as in this article, even a really good statement that reflected well on the person was not okay with her to share. She shared it in perceived privacy and public share could have negatively affected her job. Not because she said anything wrong, but because she was not able to make a public statement.

  4. Ike Pigott

    January 18, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I would enjoy Storify so much more if it had more privacy options of its own.

    For example, it’s a great tool for curating a cross-platform, extended conversation. But what if I want to share that compilation with a limited group? Storify has no “Unlisted” option, like YouTube and Posterous have to great effect.

    Until it has that feature, I can’t afford to use it.

  5. Nick

    January 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Is this news? A friend can publish your content with storify or they can take screenshot of your post. Where is the difference?

  6. christof_ff

    January 23, 2013 at 5:45 am

    I don’t get what the problem is – they could just as easily take a screenshot, or publish private printed correspondence.
    Surely the lesson is don’t trust you innermost thoughts with stupid people who are likely to share it with the world??

  7. Edward Cullen

    March 8, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Nice post. I am fully agree and satisfied with your conclusion.

  8. Pingback: Your Private Facebook Posts Can Be Publicly Shared Through Storify | Live Shares Daily | Sharing Updated News Daily

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Social Media

New Pinterest code of conduct pushes for mindful posting

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media sites have struggled with harmful content, but Pinterest is using their new code of conduct to encourage better, not just reprimands.

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Pinterest icon on phone with 2 notifications, indicating new code of conduct.

It appears that at least one social media site has made a decision on how to move forward with the basis of their platform. Pinterest has created a brand-new code of conduct for their users. Giving them a set of rules to follow which to some may be a little restricting, but I’m not mad about it. In a public statement, they told the world their message:

“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant, and reflective of who they are.”

The revamp of their system includes 3 separate changes revolving around the rules of the platform. All of them are complete with examples and full sets of rules. The list is summed up as:

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For the Creator Code, Pinterest had this to say: “The Creator Code is a mandatory set of guidelines that lives within our product intended to educate and build community around making inclusive and compassionate content”. The rules are as follows:

  • Be Kind
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The list of rules provides some details on the pop-up as well, with notes like “make sure content doesn’t insult,” “make sure information is accurate,” etc. The main goal of this ‘agreement’, according to Pinterest, is not to reprimand offending people but to practice a proactive and empowering social environment. Other social websites have been shoe-horned into reprimanding instead of being proactive against abuse, and it has been met with mixed results. Facebook itself is getting a great deal of flack about their new algorithm that picks out individual words and bans people for progressively longer periods without any form of context.

Comment Moderation is a new set of tools that Pinterest is hoping will encourage a more positive experience between users and content creators. It’s just like putting the carrot before the donkey to get him to move the cart.

  • Positivity Reminders
  • Moderation Tools
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Sticking to the positivity considerations here seems to be the goal. They seem to be focusing on reminding people to be good and encouraging them to stay that way. Again, proactive, not reactive.

The social platform’s last change is to create a Pinterest Creator Fund. Their aim is to provide training, create strategy consulting, and financial support. Pinterest has also stated that they are going to be aiming these funds specifically at underrepresented communities. They even claim to be committing themselves to a quota of 50% of their Creators. While I find this commendable, it also comes off a little heavy handed. I would personally wait to see how they go about this. If they are ignoring good and decent Creators based purely on them being in a represented group, then I would find this a bad use of their time. However, if they are actively going out and looking for underrepresented Creators while still bringing in good Creators that are in represented groups, then I’m all for this.

Being the change you want to see in the world is something I personally feel we should all strive towards. Whether or not you produced positive change depends on your own goals… so on and so forth. In my own opinion, Pinterest and their new code of conduct is creating a better positive experience here and striving to remind people to be better than they were with each post. It’s a bold move and ultimately could be a spectacular outcome. Only time will tell how their creators and users will respond. Best of luck to them.

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Facebook releases Hotline as yet another Clubhouse competitor

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As yet another app emerges to try and take some of Clubhouse’s success, Facebook Hotline adds a slightly more formal video chat component to the game.

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Woman forming hands into heart shape at laptop hosting live video chat, similar to Facebook's new app Hotline

Facebook is at it again and launching its own version of another app. This time, the company has launched Hotline, which looks like a cross between Instagram Live and Clubhouse.

Facebook’s Hotline is the company’s attempt at competing with Clubhouse, the audio-based social media app, which was released on iOS in March 2020. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Facebook had already begun working on building its own version of the app. Erik Hazzard, who joined Facebook in 2017 after the company acquired his tbh app, is leading the project.

The app was created by the New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, Facebook’s experimental development division, and it’s already in beta testing online. To access it, you can use the web-based application through the platform’s website to join the waitlist and “Host a Show”. However, you will need to sign in using your Twitter account to do so.

Unlike Clubhouse, Hotline lets users also chat through video and not just audio alone. The product is more like a formal Q&A and recording platform. Its features allow people to live stream and hold Q&A sessions with their audiences similar to Instagram Live. And, audience members can ask questions by using text or audio.

Also, what makes Hotline a little more formal than Clubhouse is that it automatically records conversations. According to TechCrunch, hosts receive both a video and audio recording of the event. With a guaranteed recording feature, the Q&A sessions will stray away from the casual vibes of Clubhouse.

The first person to host a Q&A live stream on Hotline is real-estate investor Nick Huber, who is the type of “expert” Facebook is hoping to attract to its platform.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “New Product Experimentation has been testing multimedia products like CatchUp, Venue, Collab, and BARS, and we’re encouraged to see the formats continue to help people connect and build community,” the spokesperson added.

According to a Reuters article, the app doesn’t have any audience size limits, hosts can remove questions they don’t want to answer, and Facebook is moderating inappropriate content during its early days.

An app for mobile devices isn’t available yet, but if you want to check it out, you can visit Hotline’s website.

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Social Media

Brace yourselves: Facebook has re-opened political advertising space

(SOCIAL MEDIA) After a break due to misinformation in the past election, Facebook is once again allowing political advertising slots on their platform – with some caveats.

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Facebook open on phone in a wallet case, open for political advertising again.

After a months-long ban on political ads due to misinformation and other inappropriate behavior following the election in November, Facebook is planning to resume providing space for political advertising.

Starting on Thursday, March 4th, advertisers were able to buy spots for ads that comprise politics, what Facebook categorizes as “social issues”, and other potentially charged topics previously prohibited by the social media platform.

The history of the ban is complicated, and its existence was predicated on a profound distrust between political parties and mainstream news. In the wake of the 2016 election and illicit advertising activity that muddied the proverbial waters, Facebook had what some would view as a clear moral obligation to prevent similar sediment from clouding future elections.

Facebook delivered on that obligation by removing political advertising from their platform prior to Election Day, a decision that would stand fast in the tumultuous months to follow. And, while Facebook did temporarily suspend the ban in Georgia during the senate proceedings, political advertisements nevertheless remained absent from the platform in large until last week.

The removal of the ban does have some accompanying caveats—namely the identification process. Unlike before, advertisers will have to go to great lengths to confirm their identities prior to launching ads. Those ads will most likely also need to come from domestic agencies given Facebook’s diligent removal of foreign and malicious campaigns in the prior years.

The moral debate regarding social media advertising—particularly on Facebook—is a deeply nuanced and divided one. Some argue that, by removing political advertising across the board, Facebook has simply limited access for “good actors” and cleared the way for illegitimate claims.

Facebook’s response to this is simply that they didn’t understand fully the role ads would play in the electoral process, and that allowing those ads back will allow them to learn more going forward.

Either way, political advertising spots are now open on Facebook, and the overall public perception seems controversial enough to warrant keeping an eye on the progression of this decision. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Facebook to revoke access to these advertisements again—or limit further their range and scope—in the coming months and years.

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