Facebook on Wednesday temporarily disabled its instant messenger feature while it repaired an apparent security vulnerability that permitted users to spy on friends' chat conversations and view pending friend requests.
The flaw, first reported by TechCrunch, resided in the "Preview My Profile" control under the social networking site's privacy settings. The control lets users see what their profile looks to others on Facebook.
However, due to a glitch, users could use the control to view live chats going on between their friends, as well as view pending friend requests for their friends. A video posted Wednesday to YouTube documents the exploit.
The problem was corrected shortly after Facebook became aware of it, a company spokesman said in a statement sent to SCMagazineUS.com.
"When we received reports of the problem, our engineers promptly diagnosed it and temporarily disabled the chat function," the spokesman said. "We also pushed out a fix to take care of the visible friend requests, which is now complete. Chat is now back up and running."
News of the bug comes as Facebook draws criticism on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who oppose recent policy changes by Facebook that automatically opts in users to share data with some third-party websites. Facebook defends the change as a way for users to better socialize with friends across the internet.
Some security and privacy experts disagree.
"In the past, Facebook has insisted that privacy is its 'highest priority,' but there is growing that the site has played fast and loose with the personal information of its 400 million users, encouraging them to share too much private data online and changing privacy settings to be more open," Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said Wednesday in a blog post.