Facebook’s problems with user data doesn’t seem to end anytime soon. The company was caught unaware when a report revealed that UK-based big data firm Cambridge Analytica managed to harvest data of Facebook users without their consent. Since the report came out, Facebook has been on combat mode to introduce app restrictions including limitations to search for friends using phone number. However, it seems the company has more immediate problems to address at its own end.
While it is not possible to delete Facebook messages from the inboxes of people you send them to, the company seems to have done just that for its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives. Facebook is believed to have deleted messages sent by Zuckerberg and other executives from the inboxes of its receiver. According to TechCrunch, three sources claim that old Facebook messages received from Zuckerberg have disappeared while their own replies continue to exist in the chat. This seems to be the direct violation of privilege by Facebook executives while most users on its platform have no such option.
The report says an email receipt of a Facebook message from 2010 proves Zuckerberg sent people messages that no longer appear in their chat logs. The messages have also disappeared from Facebook’s Download Your Information tool.
Facebook told TechCrunch that it was done for 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.”
Facebook has neither publicly acknowledged the ability to remove messages from users’ inboxes nor privately informed the users from whose inboxes the messages were deleted. While Facebook is playing the corporate security card here, the bigger question is whether the company has breached user trust.
A Facebook user has the option to delete messages from their own inboxes and it will still show up in the recipient’s inbox. TechCrunch futher notes that the social media giant also has no ‘retention period’ for messages with users having the option to see messages dating back to the inception of the messaging service. This clearly indicates that Facebook used a secret tool to pull back messages sent by them and thus abused its power. Facebook’s terms of service does not give authority to the platform to remove messages from the inbox of its users.
Former employees and non-employees claim that recent messages from Zuckerberg remain in users’ inboxes but old messages from before 2014 disappeared for some but not for all. This is especially concerning since Facebook Messenger is now one of the most frequently used social messaging tool. It has a user base of over 1.3 billion and is growing faster in most parts of the world.
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Mark Zuckerberg has one of the unique profiles on Facebook where has has 105 million followers and doesn’t show the option to add him as a friend on desktop. The button is grayed out for mobile users. While Facebook may have deleted messages to thwart an email leak similar to that of Sony Pictures hack, there is also a possibility that the company may have deleted those messages to avoid embarrassing leaks of personal messages. In the past, Zuckerberg has shared messages with friends which have been found to be embarrassing and insensitive.
The new revelations about Facebook abusing its power by deleting messages from the inbox of its users come just a week before Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on April 10 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11. He is likely to be grilled by the regulators on issues like data privacy and limitations in place to prevent a user from being a victim of another data harvesting scandal similar to Cambridge Analytica. Do let us know in the comments whether you think Facebook is a harm to the community or a boon since it connects people from different continents.