Facebook has been forced to suspend access to its own app after the company discovered users using an old version of its messaging service to circumvent its restrictions on the content of private messages.
The company says it is removing the feature to ensure it doesn’t become a source of confusion.
Facebook, which has around 50 million users worldwide, is the largest platform for people to share and organise their private information and messages.
But Facebook users in China and the United States were using the messaging service of their choice to bypass the company’s restrictions on posting personal messages, which it says can prevent people from sharing sensitive information.
Facebook has not released any details about how many users were affected by the problem and it says the change is “in line with our long-standing practice of respecting users’ privacy and freedom of expression”.
But it has been accused of being slow to act on a public safety issue and by some users of the app, including those in China, who say the change has put their personal information at risk.
The app has also been criticised for blocking users from the United Kingdom, where the government says the company operates a large operation, to use a VPN service.
Facebook said it had not blocked access to the UnitedKorean VPN service, which allows users to access other countries outside the UnitedStates, and said it was also working with law enforcement authorities to crack down on the VPN use.
Facebook also said it will stop supporting apps that allow users to share personal information in a “malicious” way, such as using it for “stealing” passwords or using it to log in to a website.
However, it added that it is “working with our users” to improve security of its app.
“The changes we are making today are in line with Facebook’s long-held practice of supporting users’ freedom of speech and privacy, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that this does not happen again,” the company said in a statement.
“We continue to work with law-enforcement authorities to understand and address this issue and are in the process of addressing other issues with VPN providers.”
China has been criticised by Western governments and human rights groups for its tight control over online platforms, which have been accused by human rights campaigners of being used to suppress freedom of movement.
The government has also come under criticism for not acting to crackdown on the use of VPNs, a growing use of which is making it difficult for people in the West to communicate freely.