Back in April, Facebook was buried in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and really didn’t need extra headaches. So, when it was revealed that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was able to delete his private messages from recipients’ inboxes, Facebook announced it would bring a delete feature to everyone. But Zuckerberg’s special delete button doesn’t appear to be what’s coming.
The release notes for version 191.0 of Messenger’s iOS app include a section announcing that the revised power to delete your own messages is coming soon. In the current version of Messenger, a user can technically delete a message they’ve sent from their own inbox, but it still remains in the recipient’s—and on Facebook’s data-mining servers. The release notes tell us what’s changing:
Coming soon: Remove a message from a chat thread after it’s been sent. If you accidentally send the wrong photo, incorrect information or message the wrong thread, you can easily correct it by removing the message within ten minutes of sending it.
A ten-minute window to delete your messages isn’t exactly the option that Facebook claimed Mark Zuckerberg and other executives had at their disposal. The company’s initial promise for a change came after TechCrunch reported that users had noticed messages from Zuckerberg had disappeared from their inboxes. When asked about it, Facebook said: “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.”
The explanation from this executive privilege was fairly evasive, only citing “limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages” as an example of the “number of changes” it had made to protect its top ranks’ privacy in light of a major hacking scandal. Realizing this wasn’t a great look, Facebook told Gizmodo:
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.
The promise for changes was relatively non-committal but at least implied that executives’ extra powers would be suspended until everyone had the same options for protecting their privacy. We’ve reached out to Facebook to ask if executives have continued to have their message-delete power suspended in the meantime and if this same 10-minute window will apply to everyone at the company once it rolls out. We did not receive an immediate reply and will update this post when we do.
Whatever the situation is, the lesson is clear: Facebook wants it to be very difficult for you to hide your communications and it will only give an inch when users ask for a reasonable mile. It’s true that Messenger has a “Secret Conversations” feature to make individual conversations encrypted and delete-able but that option is cumbersome to switch on every time you want to use it and you don’t always know what you might want to delete in the future. It’s almost set up in a way so it’s only valuable for people who want to hide something rather than serving to protect basic privacy.
If Facebook made it easy for Messenger users to delete messages and encrypt their chats, what would be the point of paying $19 billion for WhatsApp? That messaging service is for the privacy conscious, and it came with a huge worldwide user-base, and no Facebook stigma. Messenger is just a way to get finer, more granular data on people when they could just be using Messages for iPhone or Signal.
The easiest way to have Zuckerberg levels of privacy is to just ditch Facebook.