SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook is planning to let users of its Messenger application retract messages, after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg reportedly used an early version of the feature without telling anyone.
News site TechCrunch reported late last Thursday 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 last 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 firm's failure to disclose its ability to delete messages that have been sent has provoked anger, as has the absence of a similar tool for regular users, reported The Guardian.
The firm has also not immediately responded to questions on whether any other secret privacy tools were available solely to Facebook executives.
WE ARE SORRY
We will now be making a broader delete-message feature available. This may take some time. 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.
A FACEBOOK SPOKESMAN
Whether an "unsend" feature for Facebook was good at all was hotly debated, as were the firm's ethics in manipulating users' private messaging threads without consent or disclosure. On the one hand, the feature could make users share sensitive or confidential messages. On the other hand, it raised the spectre of paranoid users being worried that the messages they were supposed to receive might disappear.
There were also concerns about the scope for abuse if users think they can retract offensive content.
Mr Zuckerberg last Friday endorsed US 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 last 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 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.
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 last 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.
"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.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS