- Facebook has been caught deleting old messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg – a feature unavailable to ordinary users.
- The social network is now saying it will roll out the “unsend” feature to everyone at some point.
- But critics have accused the company of “shady” behaviour, and some view the newly announced feature as a way to dampen backlash.
Facebook has found itself at the center of a fresh furor over privacy and accountability after responding to reports that it had been quietly deleting old messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg by saying it would soon make the “unsend” feature available to everyone.
On Thursday, TechCrunch reported that some recipients of Zuckerberg’s messages found they had disappeared from their inboxes without their knowledge while their replies remained.
The 33-year-old CEO’s messages had been unsent – a feature not available to most people on the social network, aside from some Facebook executives.
Can we really trust @facebook to run a messaging service? According to this, Messenger users cannot retract their messages from recipients’ inboxes, but the company has done this for some Zuckerberg messages. Is that the way we expect a texting service to be managed? Cc @mims https://t.co/VZ1wnmyBP3
— Walt Mossberg (@waltmossberg) April 6, 2018
The revelation immediately sparked uproar. Some accused the company of setting one standard for its executives and another for everyone else, while others questioned whether Zuckerberg had something to hide.
Facebook now acknowledges it has a two-tiered privacy system in which regular users have to live with their dumb old texts forever and the CEO's disappear into a memory hole. Let's remember that next week when they tell Congress how seriously they take our privacy
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) April 6, 2018
Well this is hella shady: Old Facebook messages from Mark Zuckerberg are mysteriously disappearing from inboxes… an extreme privacy measure that users certainly aren't afforded https://t.co/rgQso7mDK1 by @joshconstine
— Taylor Hatmaker (@tayhatmaker) April 6, 2018
The social network said it deleted the messages for security reasons in wake of the 2014 Sony hack.
“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014, we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” a representative told TechCrunch. “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.”
And on Friday, Facebook told TechCrunch that it would roll out the unsend feature to all users in the coming months.
But the timing of this announcement has led to further criticism that making the feature widely available does not address what some perceive as a breach of trust by Facebook.
FB does something shady, acknowledges it.
FB rolls out shady capabilities to the rest of the platform. ???? https://t.co/rgC7ktlVls
— Selena Larson (@selenalarson) April 6, 2018
As if this won't have terrible consequences either… https://t.co/jG4IMafd76
— Emma Sandler (@EmmaSandler) April 6, 2018
Facebook already offers one option for users to send one another self-deleting messages via Messenger: secret conversations. The feature allows users, with the full knowledge of the other participants, to set their messages to expire after a set time.
In a statement, a Facebook representative told Business Insider:
“We have discussed this feature several times. And people using our secret message feature in the encrypted version of Messenger have the ability to set a timer – and have their messages automatically deleted. We will now be making a broader delete message feature available. This may take some time. And until this feature is ready, we will no longer be deleting any executives’ messages. We should have done this sooner – and we’re sorry that we did not.”
Interestingly, it appears Facebook has been selective in “unsending” Zuckerberg’s messages, rather than deleting them all. Will Oremus, a tech writer at Slate, tweeted that he was still able to view a message Zuckerberg sent him in 2004.
One he sent me in 2004 is still there, for whatever that's worth.
— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) April 6, 2018