Facebook Deals with Another Privacy Scandal, this Time with Its Closed Groups

It seems Facebook users are lulled into a sense of security when they join or start a closed group. The name itself gives the illusion of total privacy, implying no one can join, read, or view the group that isn’t invited. However, there are people who view the content: marketers.

The Trouble with Facebook’s Closed Groups

A popular use of these groups is for medical reasons, such as people who have dealt with a certain disease all joining the same group where they can share ideas, treatments, successes and failures, etc.

United States Representatives Frank Pallone Jr., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, sent an open letter to Facebook CEO and creator Mark Zuckerberg. They questioned the privacy practices of Facebook, as well as how it handles closed groups, specifically those dedicated to medical issues.

This was after a consumer complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission late last year. It claimed the personal information of the social network users who are in closed groups could have been made available to companies who shouldn’t have been able to access it.

The complaint explained that closed group users discuss information about “substance abuse disorders, about the challenges of parenting transgender children, HIV status, and past history of sexual assault.”


The FTC complaint furthered this, alleging that the algorithm Facebook uses “nudges” users into joining closed groups. It also alleged that the social network misleads its users into the belief that the information they share in closed groups will remain private and anonymous. They believe even insurance companies could have access and could use the information to make decisions related to the insurance of users.

Facebook Incredulously Defends Its Practice

Facebook defended the practice in a statement to Gizmodo, explaining it’s “not an anonymous platform; real-name identity is at the center of the experience and always has been,” read the email from a company spokesperson.

“It’s intentionally clear to people that when they join any group on Facebook, other members of that group can see that they are a part of that community and can see the posts they choose to share with that community. There is value in being able to know who you’re having a conversation with in a group, and we look forward to briefing the committee on this.”

It’s quite unbelievable that after all they have been through and been accused of in the past few years that Facebook would actually blame the users. Sure, at this point, it’s probably best to assume that anything that has to do with Facebook is not private, but the groups are referred to as “closed.”

Do you make use of closed groups in Facebook? Are any of them dealing with medical issues? Does this news concern you? Let us know your thoughts about Facebook allowing companies access to your private discussions in closed groups in the comments below.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.


  1. Another poorly written and highly biased article on MTE, this time against Facebook. I can see nowhere on Facebook that they claim that private groups or any other groups are anonymous. The important issue of whether Facebook allows external parties to see the contents of private groups and the evidence that they might do so is glanced over because the writer cannot back up the claim. This is the most important issue that everyone would want to be aware of if Facebook were found doing wrong. The quoted Facebook response is perfectly correct and reasonable yet the writer uses this answer to suggest that Facebook’s response is unbelievable, once again without any evidence or proof.

    Without evidence to the contrary I prefer to assume that Facebook is innocent of wrongdoing. The claim from the writer that Facebook is blaming it’s users simply does not match the text that is written. The concept of a truly anonymous group is quite ridiculous. If this were to happen we could expect the write to rush to print claiming Facebook is allowing lies, libels and fake news on it’s site as surely that is how anonymity would be used. Once again we would see user responsibility brushed aside and Facebook blamed for providing a facility that is misused.

    I’m all for dealing with wrongdoing from any corporation including Facebook but only on the basis of evidence and truth.

  2. I was reporting on the “evidence and truth.” Please see the article that I linked to. This was not something I entered into on my own and created a bias. This is a genuine issue brought up by others. There is a complaint filed with the FTC. That’s not my own individual bias.

    What I was reporting on is the well-known “truth” that Facebook has been inundated with privacy issues for the past couple of years, and here they are hit with another. Facebook’s explanation does its best to avoid explaining the actual situation. They don’t once address the fact that they give up user information to marketers. This is what is at stake here. so yes, I can back up that claim. That’s that’s the “evidence and truth” you were searching for.

    It’s not just my bias. It is a complaint filed with the FTC by other users as evidenced in my comments as well as the article i linked to.

  3. When will people admit to themselves that Facebook privacy is an oxymoron?! Posting anything on Facebook is like putting it on the front page of the New York Times, Washington Post or any other newspaper with global circulation. Facebook was designed to be a data harvesting tool. It’s function of connecting people together is of secondary importance.

    This is not the first such occurrence and certainly not the last. Facebook is a recidivist.

  4. The safest thing to do is to assume that ANYTHING you post on social media is insecure and to take care as to what information you release.

    I realise that, in some ways, this may be counter productive if, for example, your group is orientated around such things as support groups for medical issues or victims of crimes where you may wish to discuss fairly sensitive and personal matters.

    It is, of course, up to the individual to decide how much and what to communicate to people who, quite frankly you may never have met but if “closed” groups were truly anonymous then anyone joining would have even less idea of who they’re communicating with, in the worst cases, it could be paedophiles or even terrorists.

    There is no reliable way of vetting people wishing to join, as it stands, the couple of closed groups that I have joined simply requested some background information, which I gave and gave honestly (the groups were to do with previous educational establishments and previous professions) but it would be easy enough for someone to fake their way in, although in the case of my groups, there would inevitably be people in the group who know, or have known, me personally.

    As for medical matters and insurance companies, if you fail to disclose, on application, specific medical matters and such failure was revealed, your insurance would probably be invalidated and you could, potentially, be guilty of fraud particularly if you had made a claim.

    That said, social media platforms do have a duty of care as far as the personal data that they store on your behalf, something that they seem not to take too seriously given the scale of recent breaches and they really need to get their act together – ALL of them, not just FB.

    In the end, that’s just my personal view, whether or not you agree is up to you.

  5. Lets take up this deal with a dash of common sense.

    Why would anyone publish their personal medical details on Facebook (or any other social group) & NOT expect Google, Bing & other search engines to pick it up & unveil to the World? Yes, while one may need to login to see the rest, that’s easy enough, sign into Facebook or open an account, then join the group(s) to harvest the ‘confidential’ data.

    One must understand that when posting on Facebook, there’s no expectation of privacy. If one takes 10 minutes of time to read the EULA before joining (and updated ones afterwards), this is crystal clear. There are NO warranties regarding privacy. NONE! Just Google a person followed by Facebook, possibly hundreds of profiles will appear, however if one knows that person’s FB name (example Pam*1956), that makes homework a LOT easier. Even a name associated with a location and/or birthday may be enough.

    This stated, if one expects privacy over sensitive issues, do NOT discuss health issues or personal business on Facebook or any social site. Go to a local group, where one can remain anonymous (or go by first name only) and talk all you want. Just hope that no one in the group is wired, still the chances of exposure is far less than on social media.

    Other than Tech forums, I’d considering kissing all social media goodbye, this is only the latest reason. Users being hacked, tricked into responding to ‘surveys’, Facebook is a cesspool (no pun intended on the majority of it’s users). The FB platform has became more than it’s founders could had possibly imagined & out of control. As far as groups goes, I’ve never had issue getting access to any desired, ask & the door opens. It’s like having dangerous inmates in a prison, secured only by dollar store locks & guards with BB guns, a disaster waiting to happen.

    That’s my opinion, do with it as you wish……just remember, deep down, the above is the truth. Even if one has to make up something to join a group (some requires a reason to join), a 12 year old can do this.

    1. Just wanted to inform you that not any “12-year-old” can join a medical forum on Facebook. I know, as I belonged to a few of them the past few years. These are tightly guarded groups, and you cannot just “make up something to join.” You have to request to join and then answer serious questions about the disease that the average person wouldn’t know unless they did a lot of research. It is only open to people who have the disease or who have gone through that process or who are a caregiver to such a person. If the others even suspected you didn’t really have the disease or weren’t a survivor of it, you were kicked out. This is because these groups deal with a deadly form of cancer, and there are people from the groups dying weekly. As someone with experience, I can tell you I wouldn’t have found a local group to give me the insight, knowledge, and support I gained from those groups. People bare their souls in these groups. It may not seem sensical to you, but you might not want to criticize unless you have been in those shoes as a severely ill person, a survivor, or a caregiver.

  6. EDIT to above comment:

    “Other than Tech forums, I’d considering kissing all social media goodbye”

    Meant to say (didn’t proofread fully) “I’m considering kissing all social media goodbye” & standing my ground. I don’t need Facebook & Twitter in my life, email getting filled with “(you name the member) posted a picture” & on and on. Really, who needs this, other than one who has no life? Some are on FB for 12-16 hours per day. It’s not hard to find member’s info, in fact have found (using Google Earth) pictures of their residence & double checked details for accuracy.

    By joining FB using your real name & location, no matter what’s posted, others can know enough to walk up to that person and after calling by name, introduce yourself. The rest should be obvious.

    Thanks for the reminder of why I need to get away from FB/Twitter today!

    1. Laura, you may be right, although there are some ‘groups’ that teens can get into easily. Remember, there’s lots of diseases & medical conditions that affects children & teens. Sickness is not confined to an age group, skin color, gender (to include those of the LGBT community). Therefore, some 12 year olds may quality for joining, if not for themselves, for a family member/close friend & they know the basics of the condition.

      At 56 years old & with several heath issues myself (plus a few others I’ve had), and having dealt with immediate relatives health condition (hands on approach as you’ve indicated), know enough to pretend, provided no physical evidence (pictures) are required. Most had various cancers & I was personally involved in their care.

      It’s my hope that this makes my above post clear & why I’m considering leaving social media altogether. Some of my health conditions are on there & not in closed groups, although my posts are supposed to be seen by ‘friends only’. That doesn’t prevent one from looking me up in order to fish whatever may be out there. I’ve looked up myself on another computer & it wasn’t hard to find myself, of course, entering where I live & birthday nailed down one choice (me) after clicking Enter to my selection in 15 seconds. There was my ‘Wall’. that’s supposed to be private, other than my personally selected friends. I’m sure that with a bit more work, can get into the closed groups I belong to.

      By chance, I’m a member of a couple of closed groups, mostly related to computer building & select sports teams. These are supposed to be private also. Yet I don’t know if these are or aren’t, the Facebook EULA & Terms changes on a regular basis, what may be private today, may not be tomorrow. Facebook isn’t a medical facility, never will be & isn’t required to follow HIPPA policies as these operations does. There is NO guarantee of confidentiality, express or implied. Also, there’s lots of members, both male & female, who has openly stated being physically or sexually abused, not in closed groups. What about their privacy?

      My main concern at this point is not just what one can find out about me, rather if being o Facebook member is a direct threat to my security. Why I no longer respond to a quiz, of which these are plentiful. And it’s NOT just Facebook, Twitter also, which has became too uncivil for my liking. If it rains, or there’s a disaster, somehow it becomes either the sitting POTUS or ‘the Democrats’ fault.

      The founders of Facebook & other successful social sites should had seen this coming & been prepared. Note that this isn’t the only issue that’s had Facebook in very hot water, it’s CEO was called to testify to Congress last year due to what takes place on the site & likely still does.

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