Facebook secretly deleted some of Mark Zuckerberg's private messages over fears the company could be hacked

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  • Facebook deleted private messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and senior executives years ago without notifying the recipients.
  • Deleting messages is not a function Facebook offers to ordinary users, even though the Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram offer varying abilities to unsend messages.
  • In explaining the move, Facebook said it made the decision after the 2014 Sony hack, indicating the company was concerned it could be the target of a data breach that could compromise user data.
  • The news comes amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has seen Zuckerberg say as many as 87 million users’ data was exposed to the political-consulting firm.

Want to delete that embarrassing message you just sent? WhatsApp will let you, and so will Instagram – but if you’re using Facebook, you’re out of luck.

Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and cofounder of the social-media giant.

TechCrunch reported Thursday that some old messages sent by Zuckerberg and senior executives had disappeared from recipients’ Facebook Messenger inboxes, as proved by the original email receipts sent at the time.

The company appeared to confirm the unique arrangement, telling TechCrunch the change was made in response to an uptick in hacking.

“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” the company said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.”

The Sony hack targeted the emails of Sony film executives, which revealed a side of Hollywood rarely seen by outsiders, and the decision to name the event as a catalyst for Facebook’s message purge indicates how troubling the incident was in Silicon Valley – and that Facebook was concerned about being hacked.

The company also raised the idea of a “retention period,” though there is no such thing for normal users. If a user long-presses a private message on Facebook, a “Delete Message” pop-up confirms that the function will “delete your copy of the message,” but the recipient’s copy will remain.

The Facebook-owned Instagram has long had the option to “unsend” direct messages, while the Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently launched a function in which unread messages could be deleted “for everyone,” with participants receiving notice that content had been deleted.

But Zuckerberg’s deleted messages didn’t leave behind any such message, probably because they had already been read many years ago.

The messages were originally sent to former employees and people outside Facebook. According to TechCrunch, the recipients of the now-deleted messages were not informed at any stage that correspondence they received had been erased.

Zuckerberg may be the CEO of Facebook, but it’s unclear how the decision to remove senior executives’ messages would be allowed under the company’s terms of service. The terms allow Facebook to remove content only if the company believes “that it violates this Statement or our policies” or for infringing copyright.

Deleting messages quietly, and selectively, also appears to fly in the face of Facebook’s campaign to “make the world more open and transparent.” Its own policies say the company “should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations.”

The news comes amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has seen Zuckerberg acknowledge that as many as 87 million users’ data was exposed to the political-consulting firm.

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