As you are probably aware, Facebook has let what looks to be a pretty serious bug out into the wild. First announced over the weekend, and confirmed yesterday, was the news that users who use Facebook as their primary storage for contact information such as email addresses, had found that these addresses on their mobile devices has been overwritten with @facebook.com addresses. Without them knowing or accepting any such change.
The official line goes something like this:
Contact synchronization on devices is performed through an API. For most devices, we’ve verified that the API is working correctly and pulling the primary email address associated with the users’ Facebook account.
However, for people on certain devices, a bug meant that the device was pulling the last email address added to the account rather than the primary email address, resulting in @facebook.com addresses being pulled.
We are in the process of fixing this issue and it will be resolved soon. After that, those specific devices should pull the correct addresses.
Now let’s be clear. This is very serious. I’ve worked in the mobile industry for the last 12 years and if there is one thing that is sacrosanct it is user data. You do not change, delete, update or generally mess around with anything that the user has stored on their device without giving them the opportunity to tell you to stop it first. Users have a much greater emotional attachment to their devices than they do to their desktops. They rely on them. Suddenly finding that you cannot contact someone is extremely annoying. Finding that is because another company has changed data that is yours is far more serious.
So Why Did This Happen?
I’ve been musing on why this bug may have got released. After all, this seems a pretty obvious use case. Of course Facebook is famous for a) not having testers as such and b) famous for adopting a test in production methodology. Could either of these be to blame?
Would these problems have been found by using manual test techniques? Facebook is a primary user of test automation and I can’t help but feel that a bug this obvious would be found by a few skilled testers adopting an exploratory test strategy.
I also wonder how much of a place the test in production has in the mobile world. In the desktop world, where users are always connected and backups are plentiful then rolling out updates and observing what happens is OK. Just roll back. It’s not so easy on mobile. Being on a mobile device means that you probably don’t have access to backups right away. You may be in a poor signal area or away from WiFi. And so you are stuck. Stuck out of the office or away from your friends and unable to contact people. And if you are stuck then you will become far more frustrated.
It seems to me that there is a typical gap in test strategy at work here. A bug that only manifested itself on mobile, uncovered as a result of changes made at server/ desktop level. When companies start to move onto mobile then this is pretty common. Failing to adopt a combined test strategy, treating mobile and desktop equally, or pushing more testing towards mobile can leave dangerous gaps.
It’ll be interesting to see how Facebook responds to this situation. I don’t know Facebook’s test strategies in detail but it seems to me that something needs changing to adapt to the world of mobile.