If you’re a user of Facebook Messenger, then you might be aware that while you can delete the messages that you send, that only removes the message from your copy of the conversation — anyone else in the conversation is still able to see it, whether that be a one-on-one or group conversation. Following the uproar around these deletions, Facebook has stated that it is developing an “unsend” option in Messenger, and that it will be available in a few months. Until that time, Facebook has also said it will not be deleting any more executive personal messages.
While Zuckerberg himself declined to comment on the situation, a Facebook representative clarified that the deletions concerned corporate security: “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications. 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.”
Essentially, Facebook appears to have put a retention timer on the messages of some executive members of staff, deleting them from the system after a certain amount of time has passed. Facebook security justification does stand up to scrutiny on the subject, as a standard message deletion would only remove the message from the sender’s account, and hackers could potentially access the inbox of the recipient in order to read the message and potentially make off with Facebook’s secrets.
While it’s certainly within Facebook’s rights to protect its corporate interests, this revelation comes at the wrong time for Zuckerberg’s company. The treatment, or mistreatment, of user data has been an issue on Facebook for a long time, but it has been recently thrown back into public attention by the actions of Cambridge Analytica, a company that is accused of abusing Facebook’s data to alter the public’s perceptions on key issues. In response, Facebook has altered the way it allows apps to gather data, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for various governments around the world, with many having launched investigations of the service.
Key to the issue is the control that Facebook has over the messages sent between users. While Facebook’s service is clearly under its own control, questions of user trust naturally arise when data is altered without user knowledge. With data becoming the currency of the new age, these questions will remain a central focus of public debate for some time yet.