Facebook adding unsend message tool after Zuckerberg caught deleting Messenger missives

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was found to have used an early version of a message retracting feature without telling anyone.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was found to have used an early version of a message retracting feature without telling anyone.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG, AFP, NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Facebook is planning to introduce a feature letting users of its Messenger application retract messages, after it was reported that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg used an early version of the feature without telling anyone.

News site TechCrunch reported late on Thursday (April 5) that multiple people had seen Messenger missives from Mr Zuckerberg disappear.

Facebook said the feature was developed after the Sony data hack in 2014, which exposed a trove of sensitive internal communications. Facebook created a capability that let executives expunge their app messages after a period.

“We will now be making a broader delete-message feature available. This may take some time,” a Facebook spokesman wrote in an e-mail on Friday. “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.”

The company said last week that it scans content in the Messenger app to track abuse.

Mr Zuckerberg on Friday endorsed United States legislation to regulate political advertisements across the Internet, a concession to lawmakers days before he is scheduled to testify in two US congressional hearings.

He also said Facebook would begin requiring people who want to run ads on the social network addressing political issues to verify their identity and location.

That expands an earlier plan to require such verification for ads that are directly about elections.

“Election interference is a problem that’s bigger than any one platform, and that’s why we support the Honest Ads Act,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.

One of the sponsors of the Bill, which is still in the committee stage, said the statement was a reversal from what Facebook had earlier indicated.

Mr Zuckerberg said the change will mean “we will hire thousands of more people” to get the new system in place ahead of US mid-term elections in November.

The move comes amid concerns that Russian-sponsored entities delivered Facebook ads designed to create discord and confusion ahead of the 2016 presidential election, and that companies such as political consultancy Cambridge Analytica created messages based on psychographic profiles gleaned from the platform to influence voters.

“We’re starting this in the US and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months,” Mr Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.

A separate Facebook statement said the changes would help improve transparency and accountability of the network around political campaigns. 

To get authorised by Facebook, “advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location”, said the statement.

Mr Zuckerberg is scheduled to appear on Tuesday before a joint hearing of two US Senate committees, and on Wednesday before a US House committee.

Facebook said on Friday that it had suspended Canadian political consultancy AggregateIQ from its platform after reports that the firm may have had improper access to the personal data of Facebook users.

Mr Christopher Wylie, a whistle-blower who once worked at Cambridge Analytica, has said the company worked with AggregateIQ.

“In the light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with (Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm) SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received Facebook user data, we have added it to the list of entities we have suspended from our platform while we investigate,” Facebook said in a statement.

The Canadian federal agency charged with protecting the privacy rights of individuals said on Thursday that the agency, along with its provincial-level counterpart in British Columbia, would jointly investigate Facebook and AggregateIQ over the ongoing data scandal.

Facebook Canada on Wednesday said more than 600,000 Canadians had had their data “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg embarked on a media apology tour on Thursday in the wake of the serial scandals, but the discovery of a two-tiered privacy standard - one for executives and one for everyone else - as well as the company’s use of facial recognition problems has compounded the company’s public relations debacle and provoked anger among users. 

The company also has not responded to questions over whether it has other secret privacy tools for executives, reported The Guardian. 

A coalition of privacy and consumer groups on Friday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing that Facebook’s “unwanted, unnecessary and dangerous use” of facial recognition software violates users’ privacy as well as the consent decree inked by the company in 2011 with the FTC. 

Facebook was already under investigation over the Cambridge Analytica data breach.

The flurry of news has overshadowed Ms Sandberg’s apology tour, which followed a similar effort by Mr Zuckerberg earlier in the week. 

“We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me,” Ms Sandberg told The Financial Times. “There are operational things that we need to change in this company and we are changing them. We have to learn from our mistakes and we need to take action.”

Earlier, Mr Zuckerberg had stated that the Cambridge Analytica data breach was “my responsibility … I started this place. I run it. And I am responsible for what happens here.”

Ms Sandberg told CNBC that Facebook users may one day be able to opt out of having their data mined, but would have to pay for the privilege. 

She stressed that the company already had different ways to opt out of having their data mined. However, “We don’t have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product,” Ms Sandberg said.

Ms Sandberg also spoke about news that “most” of the company’s billions of accounts have had their data “scraped by unknown third parties abusing a user search tool. 

“We had a feature we could look up people by name or email, and that was important for finding people,” Ms Sandberg told Bloomberg. “And someone made a directory they shouldn’t have made with that information. But to be very clear and specific all of that was public information. That was information that was already publicly available on Facebook.”