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Facebook privacy glitch outs LGBT users

By Zack Beauchamp| Think Progress
Monday, October 15, 2012

The outing of University of Texas-Austin students to their parents as a consequence of a little-known Facebook privacy glitch has reignited longstanding concerns over the social network’s treatment of its LGBT users’ private information.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the two students — Bobbi Duncan and Taylor McCormick — had placed highly restrictive privacy controls on the information , but were unintentionally outed by the head of their LGBT choir when they joined its Facebook group to get access to the rehearsal schedule:

The president of the chorus, a student organization at the University of Texas campus here, had added Ms. Duncan and Mr. McCormick to the choir’s Facebook group. The president didn’t know the software would automatically tell their Facebook friends that they were now members of the chorus.

The two students were casualties of a privacy loophole on Facebook—the fact that anyone can be added to a group by a friend without their approval. As a result, the two lost control over their secrets, even though both were sophisticated users who had attempted to use Facebook’s privacy settings to shield some of their activities from their parents.

The consequences for Ms. Duncan and Mr. McCormick were dire — the former’s father “left vitriolic messages on her phone, demanding she renounce same-sex relationships, she says, and threatening to sever family ties,” causing her to spiral into a depression (she’s thankfully improved since). The latter’s dad “didn’t talk to his son for three weeks.”

The Journal notes that Facebook is making an admirable effort to make its privacy policies clearer to LGBT users, but this isn’t the first time the company’s opaque rules have outed LGBT individuals.

In 2009, Library of Congress employee Peter TerVeer was outed to his supervisor as a consequence of a Facebook policy change; he was met with a systematic pattern of discrimination that cost him his job and ultimately his home.

A glitch in Facebook’s advertising programming had previously sent confidential information on users’ sexual orientation to third-party advertisers.

© Think Progress.
This article was published by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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28 more reader comments:

  1. way to go, Zuckerberg…asshole

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:31pm
  2. Glitch my ass.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:35pm
  3. Way to go to the parents, your kid is gay, get over it, not like he robbed a bank. And if you didn’t know before now, what does that say about you as a parent!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:36pm
  4. GRRR

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:38pm
  5. Yeah, sure, “glitch”.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:38pm
  6. It could be a glitch.. They are changing Facebook up every few months it seems.. There’s going to be bugs. Or, some asshole at Facebook did this. But maybe we should not judge, and make wild assumptions. It could be anything.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:44pm
  7. I look forward to the day when people don’t have to hide who they are from their families.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:44pm
  8. I never really had the option of being in, so I really don’t feel any sympathy! It’s time to grow up boys and girls!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:49pm
  9. I’m not trying to sound like an ass, but it’s not a GLITCH. A “glitch” implies that its a malfunction that causes something to behave abnormally temporarily. Open groups on facebook have had that feature for a long while now and that feature will always remain. People should be cautious about what they put on the internet. If they don’t want any chance of being outed, don’t give anyone any chance of outing you.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:50pm
  10. Don’t loopholes just suck sometimes. That isn’t what gets me so flustered. It’s their parents. Seriously?! threatening to sever family ties just because your child is attracted to the same sex? What the hell kind of parent is that?! Parents should love and support their children 100% and be there for them when things are going bad for that child. Not shun them and push them away just because their gay. Way to be a good parent. Asshole. And if someone tries to bring up something biblical, well it says you should LOVE your kin. you may not like it, but their your blood for goodness sake….It’s not right man.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:51pm
  11. I like Jeff Futrel’s comments.. The real anger should be tendered towards the parents.. For their actions after the fact; also possibly not caring enough to really know who or what their children are. And, fostering a climate where their kids have to hide who they are from them…. Be angry at the parents – that is where the realy issues stem from…

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:51pm
  12. that sir is a hacker and that hacker sir is a douchbag homophob who is a douchbag

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:52pm
  13. OPEN Group/CLOSED group. That’s the diff.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:53pm
  14. Your on a social network like Facebook that is already hard to hide anything you post. So come on, really blaming Facebook? If you don’t want anything from YOU on the Internet then don’t create an account. But ppl always gonna talk about you so if it wast Facebook or not someone would of posted something so I’m sorry

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:58pm
  15. How about you don’t put shit on facebook, or the internet period, that you dont want the whole world to know? And there is a feature that allows you to disable being added to groups by friends, I’ve personally used it. And if youre that in the closet about something, DONT HAVE A FACEBOOK TO BEGIN WITH. Someone somewhere is going to say something that will get back to someone else, thats how social media works. Just take some fucking responsibility!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 7:59pm
  16. ^^ amen Jeremy!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:00pm
  17. Although its not fair to be outed, we’re all at a point in time when it is imperative and so very important, now more then ever, to come out and be yourself! I never had the chance to be “in the closet”! Stand up and stand out! It’s time!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:07pm
  18. Yikes!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:08pm
  19. This is how I decided to come out last week :)

    Be sure to watch it till the end and pass this message on, politics can be fun :)

    Pass it on for LOVE and Marriage Equality in Washington State, APPROVE REFERENDUM 74!!

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:24pm
  20. I go to UT Austin, am a member of Queer Chorus, and I know both of these people. Neither deserves what Facebook did to them, and what this is causing their families to do. Great fucking job, Facebook.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:38pm
  21. Convenient…

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 8:42pm
  22. Facebook didn’t do anything to them except function as facebook does for everyone else. Maybe you should blame the person who added them to the group. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the queer chorus if theyre so in the closet. Nobody deserves to be hated or disowned for being gay, and their families are obviously shitty people. But you can’t blame facebook for everything just because you dont want to face reality.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 9:00pm
  23. The glitch also made messages prior to like 2011 or 2010 public. I could go on your profile and read some messages you guys recieved.
    So yeah, it is partially Facebook’s fault that privste information is being leaked.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 9:26pm
  24. Facebook is a public, online, internet, cyberspace forum. Anything you put on here is subject to hy-jacking, hacking, and being spread all over virtual reality for all who choose to see. Don’t trust another person’s program with your life. Sorry. If you want to have clandestine activities, don’t participate unanimously on Facebook. Sorry to those with families that don’t understand them, but in the end, they will have to know. One way or another, they will have to know.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 10:45pm
  25. Karen, I completely agree with that. Also, it’s not Facebook’s fault that some parents are bigot assholes that need to just get over themselves and love their children just as they are because THAT is what it means to be a parent.

    Posted on Monday, October 15, 2012 at 11:26pm
  26. Nothing on the net, not just FB, is a secret. Its all out there,somewhere,waiting to be found.

    Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 3:36am
  27. Lezzies! Here is your inside scoop to lesbian: events; DJ’s; blogs; and everything NYC Lesbian all integrated craftily and easily on one facebook page! Add us!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 8:01am
  28. You can not even SING in peace.

    Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 1:11pm