Facebook has been playing fast and loose with its users’ private data since it first launched a targeted advertising program. Every so often, the lucrative strategy backfires when a new, often gaping holes are found in the way the company guards its users’ info. There have been dozens of examples over the company’s long history, but the most recent may be the most scandalous: A shady firm of “political consultants” secretly harvested data belonging to as many as 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge, and then used that data to influence the 2016 presidential election.
This is indeed a massive scandal for Facebook, and the company will be in damage control mode for many months to come before it finally blows over (yes, of course it will eventually blow over). In the meantime, fun new tidbits about how Facebook handles user data continue to emerge on an almost daily basis — which isn’t surprising now that reporters have caught a scent. The latest revelation concerns one particular Facebook user, whose privacy appears to actually be a priority for the company.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Facebook is an advertising company. That’s how Facebook makes its money. Facebook doesn’t charge end users for a product because end users are the product. Facebook builds a profile on each individual user based on every single piece of data it can collect on the Facebook site, in the Facebook app, and even sometimes around the web thanks to tracking cookies. It then uses that profile to target advertisements that are relevant to each user’s interests and history.
It’s a brilliant and lucrative strategy similar to the one used by Google, but Facebook is often far less careful than Google with the way it protects all the user data it collects. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is the latest reminder of that fact. But as it turns out, there is in fact one user whose privacy Facebook has gone the extra mile to protect. In fact, this user’s privacy is so important that Facebook actually went into individual users’ Facebook accounts and tampered with their Messenger inboxes.
Who is this mysterious user whose privacy is so important? Why it’s none other than CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In a post early Friday morning, TechCrunch reported that multiple users found old Facebook Messenger texts sent to them by Zuckerberg had mysteriously gone missing. Oddly, their halves of the conversations were left untouched, making it appear as though they were having chats with no one. When confronted, Facebook confirmed to the site that it had indeed deleted messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg using Facebook Messenger.
“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement. “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.”
As the report notes, Facebook never disclosed to anyone that it had accessed users’ historical Messenger conversations and deleted messages from users’ inboxes without their knowledge.
The reporter who penned the story contacted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg using the Messenger app to ask if he thought tamper with users’ inboxes might constitute a breach of trust. Not surprisingly, he received no response — or perhaps Zuckerberg did reply, but Facebook deleted his messages before they were seen.
UPDATE: A Facebook spokesperson contacted BGR via email with the following statement:
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.