There is an implied, if not legal, understanding that even if you’re technically hosting your email or messages on someone else’s servers, your messages are to be considered sacrosanct. That is, service providers are not allowed to tamper with their contents (but they can scan them), at least without informing their owners. Now it seems that Facebook has respected neither principle and has allegedly deleted messages coming from the Facebook CEO and other execs. The problem is that those messages were deleted from other users’ inboxes, not Zuckerberg’s.
It’s not yet clear what exactly has happened or how widespread the incident is. Several reports and proofs have surfaced claiming that messages from Zuckerberg and other company execs have mysteriously vanished from their Facebook chat logs and files. Users’ replies to those messages, however, remained, giving the appearance of a monologue.
When asked about the incident, Facebook naturally gave a roundabout answer. It claims that it has changed its message retention policy in 2014 to protect its executives’ communications, implying that it deletes messages after a certain period of time has lapsed. Strangely, it seems that messages that came years before the deleted messages were left unaffected. In fact, only select messages seem to have vanished without a trace.
If true, this means that Facebook has tampered with users’ inboxes and chat logs without informing them, before or after the fact. While there is no question that it could technically do so, it’s unclear whether it actually has the legal right to. While Facebook’s terms of service do give it the right to delete messages that violate certain rules, there has been no indication that those were the case. After all, the deleted messages came from the company’s executives, not users. And although Facebook may have legal grounds to delete messages made by its own employees, those usually don’t cover communication made outside of the company and with third parties.
This revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for Facebook. The social network giant is already under fire for its mishandling of user’s private information and Mark Zuckerberg himself is set to appear before what will undoubtedly be one of the most high-profile congressional hearings in recent memory. This move will undoubtedly be seen as Facebook’s covert way of covering up its tracks before that event.
UPDATE: A Facebook representative reached out to us to clarify that this was part of an “unsend” tool they had been working on for a while now. Here’s the statement in full:
“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.”