Facebook's "unsend" message tool to go public

Facebook plans to roll out an "unsend" feature to its messaging service, after the social network was caught retracting messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other executives. Reports last night raised claims from users who had received messages from Zuckerberg through Facebook, but who since discovered that the site had no record of those conversations.

However, email receipts proved that the Zuckerberg messages had, at one point at least, existed. Challenged with the evidence, Facebook confirmed that it had deleted some messages from the inboxes of the recipients, without disclosing it was doing so. As well as messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it also had done the same for other members of the social network's executive team.

"Unsend" features aren't new or even that unusual, but what proved unacceptable for regular Facebook users is that so far the majority of the site's members don't have access to them. Now, TechCrunch reports, Facebook plans to roll out an "unsend" feature to everybody. However it won't be arriving immediately.

According to the company, it had been working on – or at least thinking about – such an addition to the messages system already. However it's clearly not ready for public release, and exactly how the system will operate is still being discussed. One possibility is that message authors will be able to set an expiration time for their messages, after which point they'll be automatically deleted from the recipient's inbox. In the meantime, Facebook promises, it won't be using its backdoor access to delete or retract any more of its chief exec's messages.

Facebook insists that its behavior until now was all above board, and suggests that the decision to selectively edit Zuckerberg's Messenger history was done for security. In a statement, it pointed to the Sony Pictures hack, in which numerous privileged or potentially embarrassing emails sent between executives at the firm were released publicly.

"After Sony Pictures' emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives' communications," a Facebook spokesperson 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."

While that may well be the case, it comes as trust in Facebook is already in question. The social network has found itself back under FTC investigation, after revelations that earlier versions of its app policies allowed third-parties to extract the personal information of millions of users without their explicit consent. Yesterday, Facebook said that the data of as many as 87 million people could have been passed to Cambridge Analytica, the most high-profile case to have been revealed so far.