Facebook secretly deleted some of Mark Zuckerberg's private messages over fears the company could be hacked

  • Facebook deleted private messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and senior executives years ago without notifying the recipients.
  • Deleting messages is not a function that Facebook offers to ordinary users, despite Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram offering varying abilities to unsend messages.
  • In explaining the move, Facebook said it made the decision after the 2014 Sony hack, indicating the company was concerned it could be the target of a data breach that could compromise user data.
  • The news comes just weeks after the Cambridge Analytica scandal which has seen Zuckerberg admit that 87 million users probably had their data scraped.


Want to delete that embarrassing message you just sent? WhatsApp will let you, and so will Instagram — but if you're using Facebook, then you're out of luck.

Unless you're Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and cofounder of Facebook.

TechCrunch reported Thursday that some old messages sent by Zuckerberg and senior executives have disappeared from recipients' Facebook Messenger inboxes, proven by the original email receipts sent at the time.

The company appeared to confirm the unique arrangement, telling TechCrunch the change was made in response to an uptick in hacking.

"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," the company said.

The Sony hack targeted the emails of Sony film executives, which revealed a side of Hollywood rarely seen by outsiders, and the decision to name the event as a catalyst for Facebook's message purge indicates how troubling the incident was in Silicon Valley — and that Facebook was concerned about being hacked.

The company also raised the idea of a "retention period," though there is no such thing for normal users. If a user long presses a private message on Facebook a "Delete Message" pop up confirms that the function will "delete your copy of the message," and the recipients' copy will remain.

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A man fixes posters depicting Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, with the slogan 'Our Data Not His. Go Straight To Jail' to the entrance of the company's offices in central London on March 20, 2018. The European Parliament on Tuesday invited Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to speak following revelations that a firm working for Donald Trump's US presidential campaign harvested data on 50 million users. Facebook has faced worldwide criticism over the claims that Cambridge Analytica, the UK data analysis firm hired by Trump's 2016 campaign, harvested and misused data on 50 million members. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone in front of a computer screen showing a Facebook logo on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A protester called Heiko Khoo sticks posters of Alexander Nix behind bars onto the windows of the offices in a demonstration against Cambridge Analytica on March 20, 2018 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, arrives at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man wheels storage crates from the building that houses the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
HOLBORN, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: Chief executive of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix arrives at the office near Holborn on March 20, 2018 in Holborn, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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Facebook-owned Instagram has long had the option to "unsend" direct messages, while Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently launched a deletion function where unread messages can be deleted "for everyone." A message is then displayed to all participants that content has been deleted.

But Zuckerberg's deleted messages didn't leave behind any such message, probably because they had already been read, many years ago.

The messages were originally sent to former employees and people outside of Facebook. According to TechCrunch, the recipients of the now-deleted messages were not informed at any stage that correspondence they received had been erased.

Zuckerberg may be the CEO of Facebook, but it's unclear how the decision to remove senior executives' messages would be allowed under the company's terms of service. The terms only allow Facebook to remove content if the company believes "that it violates this Statement or our policies" or for infringing copyright.

Deleting messages quietly, and selectively, also appears to fly in the face of Facebook's campaign to "make the world more open and transparent." Its own policies say that the company "should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations."

Facebook appears to have not followed these policies in this instance, and it raises questions about the recipient's right to privacy.

The news comes just weeks after the Cambridge Analytica scandal which has seen Zuckerberg admit that tens of millions of users probably had their data scraped.

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SEE ALSO: Your Facebook data has probably already been scraped, Mark Zuckerberg says

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