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Is Facebook Sharing Updates From Secret Groups?

Is ABC changing Facebook actions before sharing in its sidebar widget?

I received an email today that has me concerned about Facebook, how Facebook shares our information, and what our expectations of privacy are.

My friend received a screenshot from another friend that showed her in the Facebook widget on an ABC news page. I went to the URL in the screenshot and found the same thing:

Is Facebook Sharing Secret Group Updates

Why is this a problem? Because my friend shared that video link in a secret Facebook group. If you’re not familiar with Facebook groups, there are three types:

  • Open groups are just that: open. Anyone can find the group via search, they can see who’s in the group, and they can see what members post.
  • Closed groups allow people to see the group (find via search) and who’s in the group. However, if you’re not in the group, you can’t see what people post.
  • Secret groups are stealth. Only members of the group can find and see the group, the members list, or posts made by members. Anyone outside of the group cannot see a thing.

So, if my friend posted the video link to a secret group, why is it showing up in a widget on an ABC news site? I’ve tried to find an answer and I’m completely stumped. The widget is pulling in updates from the Ticker and is showing me people connected with me. I know Amy, Lisa, and Deb (and obviously my friend whose name is blurred for privacy — all of whom are referenced in the image above). But that update shouldn’t have shown in my Ticker OR in the ABC widget because it’s in a private Facebook group.

I also looked at these possibilities:

  • Did she or I have an app installed that tracked what we read? Many sites have these (e.g., Huffington Post), but alas, neither of us has any sort of social reader installed.
  • Was the friend who sent her the original screenshot in her secret group? Nope. And neither am I, yet I can see that she shared the video.
  • Does the friend have her “Ads shown by 3rd Parties” privacy set to “no one?” She originally had “friends” as the setting, but then changed it to “no one.” Her update still appears on the ABC news site even after the change. But even so, remember, this was a status update from a private group. It should not have been shown anywhere.
  • Did she share the video from ABC? When I clicked on the link in the Facebook widget, I was taken to where I could view the video. Except that my friend didn’t share the video from ABC. Here’s a screenshot of what she did share in her secret group — you can clearly see she shared the video from YouTube:

Facebook secret group status update shown publicly


So why is the video re-routing you to a page on ABC? Why is her status update to a private Facebook group showing to her friends on another site?

Last week it came out that Facebook may be publishing private messages that you sent before 2010. Now, I know there is some debate about that. Some people haven’t seen those private messages on their Timelines, but I know several people who have. They see sensitive information — not just addresses and phone numbers, but friends admitting they are gay but haven’t come out to their family or someone admitting they cheated on a girlfriend/boyfriend. Those are hardly items that one would post on a Wall. The people who have reported seeing those kinds of items swear they were PMs at the time. It didn’t happen on my Timeline, but people I trust to know the difference between a PM and a Wall post are saying they do see it. I was content to let it go because I don’t usually share things of high intimacy on Facebook. I checked my Timeline and none of my friends had anything incriminating either, so I let it stand. I took the controversy as another warning to watch what and how I share on social media. And then I saw this issue of the wrong kind of status update showing up in the wrong place.

Look, you all know I’m a fan of Facebook in general. I use it every day, I wrote a book about it, I speak at conferences about it, I consult about it. It’s a huge part of my career as a social media strategist. But even I don’t understand what’s going on here. These apparent privacy breeches need to be addressed and quick. What’s your take?


Be sure to read part 2 of this issue (I explain why ABC and Facebook may not be sharing your information!) I’ve been discussing this with people on Facebook and a trusted friend brought up some excellent points. In a nutshell he points out that the video link shared on ABC isn’t the same as the one on the original post and so may be unrelated to the post in the private group and somehow triggered by another action or event. He also pointed out that the timestamps don’t match up (ABC says she posted it about a week ago — and that screenshot is from 10/2/12; she actually posted it on September 11). These are all excellent points. When I talked to my friend again she looked back and saw that she had Liked the video link on a friend’s Wall, but did not share it from there. She shared it later, and directly from YouTube.

So let’s forget the privacy issue for a minute. Yes, that’s important, but to me it’s secondary. I’m really mostly interested in the how and why of this situation. So here are my questions:

  • Is it Facebook or ABC populating the widget?
  • How did Facebook or ABC know that she had posted a link related to Gangnam style? I understand that Facebook would have a record, and if the widget is populated by the Facebook Ticker or News Feed then it would show up that she Liked the video, not that she shared the video (because that info isn’t supposed to be available outside the private group, right?). BUT if ABC coded the widget and is populating it based on info it takes from Facebook, how would ABC know that she shared the video?
  • How did the link change from YouTube to ABC if ABC isn’t populating the widget? Related: Again, I wonder how ABC would know what she was posting in private group?
  • If her public Liking of the video is what triggered the widget info (rather than her video share in a private group), then why is the widget saying she shared something she didn’t share? Is this ABC using Facebook info in any way they see as beneficial (e.g., monitoring that she Liked something, then populating with a page from their site that’s similar)? And is that ethical?


21 thoughts on “Is Facebook Sharing Updates From Secret Groups?”

  1. When it comes to Facebook, I try to really limit my photos and personal information. With all these changes out there…sometimes it is hard to keep up. I belong to many groups and I have chosen not to receive notifications of any kind. Guess what shows up on my news feeds…yep. You guessed it. Great information!!

  2. A bit late, sorry!

    I think you are missing an important aspect here: The video your friend shared and the one pointed out in the ABC ticker are two completely different videos. Your friend shared the original PSY Gangnam Style video from youtube (it’s the one that has like 1.5 billion clicks by now). On the ABC ticker, it’s actually an ABC article (well, more a video) ABOUT Gangnam Style (more precisely, a video about the dance at the GMAs) that has been shared.
    Your friend might not have actively shared the latter (she might have liked / commented on it on a friend’s page or the actual ABC page and forgotten to untick some boxes), which is not great (that it still shows up on the ABC page, I mean) however, one can safely say that it has nothing to do with the video she has posted in the secret group since they are two different videos / stories. ABC and/or Facebook have not shared anything from the secret group in this instance.

  3. This kind of stuff makes my head spin, big time. I don’t have the time to keep up with FB’s changes and settings, so I just try to be extra careful. If I wouldn’t put it out there publicly, it doesn’t go on FB (pics, videos, etc… and FB messaging??? Dear God! I would never trust it with sensitive information!) I may rant a bit in a private group, but even there I try to be semi-careful.

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    1. Hi, Someone. I’m only questioning ABC/FB because YouTube isn’t actually involved here. This appears to be an issue with the FB widget and how it’s parsing info and how ABC is displaying the info. If YouTube were involved, I’d think they wouldn’t have changed their own link to go to a page on ABC; they’d have kept the link pointing to their own site.

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  7. Was sent this link by a friend and quite disturbed by this. I just pinged Mashable & TechCrunch with this post via Twitter, but it might be worth emailing to their Tips dept’s, in addition to Engadget, Lifehacker and Gizmodo.

  8. BOGGLES my mind, especially as it seems to be inconsistent from person to person. I LOVE Facebook, but I don’t like some of the weird things changing. I also don’t know what FB could possibly gain by posting that info – or if it was a glitch. If anything, such actions would most likely lose them users? Thanks for posting this!

  9. Melanie,
    I was one that was like ‘eh-no big deal’ on the Timeline thing for ME….as I don’t (or at least try not) to share personal stuff on timelines. But this is totally weird!

    I’ll be back often to see if you come to a conclusion. =)

    Thanks for the info!

  10. Melanie~ I have to admit, I find it very concerning. I’m one of the people who found personal messages on their timeline (easily distinguished from timeline posts purely by their content – phone numbers, etc) AND, I did, in fact find personal information on other’s pages – including my husband’s page. Like you, I know there was a lot of debate about it last week and ended up in many conversations, but helped some by taking screenshots of what I could see on their pages to prove their difference. To me, this is yet another reminder that ‘privacy’ isn’t what we imagined it to be and we should be keeping what we truly don’t want public to ourselves.

    I think you are correct, we do need to keep our private and sensitive information out of these forums. Thank you for posting this.

    1. That’s the thing, Amy. My friend had her privacy set correctly. Everything was friends only or no one. She’s very guarded online. The expectation (set by Facebook itself) is that a private group is private. There are no settings that I know of to override that. If someone else does, I’m all ears!

  11. Melanie, this is very alarming to me. Like you, I don’t share much personal stuff either, but still, I like my privacy.

    To me this is a reminder that FB owns all that goes on there and we’re at the mercy of their whims or the mercy of people who manage to hack into it. I don’t know.

    1. I agree, Amanda. It’s very concerning. While I think it’s smart to not post private or sensitive information online in general, when Facebook says a group is private and then clearly states what that means, the user should have a reasonable expectation that those guidelines are respected. Luckily, my friend only shared a video link, nothing major. But are these widgets somehow pulling things other than links? And I’m still stumped about how/why ABC re-routed her original link from YouTube to an ABC page? That’s just confusing to me.

      1. That is the truly scary part — things being shared from private groups and PMs. We think of PMs as being like email and expect them to be private! Very very distrubing.

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