Remember When Facebook Promised a Delete Button for Your Sent Messages? [Updated]

Illustration for article titled Remember When Facebook Promised a Delete Button for Your Sent Messages? [Updated]
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Back in April, Mark Zuckerberg got caught deleting old messages he’d sent through Facebook. The tech company was forced to confirm that the CEO was reaching into other people’s inboxes and deleting old messages, but assured us that it was fine because Facebook would be giving the feature to everyone soon. Well, it’s the middle of October, six months later, and we’re still waiting.

Everything about Facebook’s statement at the time felt rushed and panicky. And now we know why. The tech giant clearly never had any intention of releasing the feature to all of its users. The company’s statement in April promised that the feature would be coming but that it “may take some time.”

From April 6, 2018:

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.


It’s time to call bullshit. It doesn’t take that much time to roll out a feature that you already gave to your top executives. Theoretically, it could be as easy as a flick of a switch.

April admittedly feels like a lifetime ago. Facebook has had so many scandals this year, including the Cambridge Analytica breach that exposed the private data of millions of user and helped win President Trump the 2016 election. And that’s to say nothing of the company’s most recent hack, its rampant use as a tool for discrimination based on sex and race, and the United Nations report that found Facebook was complicit in genocide in Myanmar.

The fact that Facebook appears to be lying about new features after its executives got caught deleting messages is really small potatoes compared to literal genocide. But it speaks to the attitude of distrust that the average user now has. Roughly one in four Americans deleted Facebook from their phones in the past year. And it’s easy to see why. But Facebook isn’t always making it easy to escape the fetid heap of rotting ones and zeroes they’ve built for us. The company recently had a “glitch” that made it impossible for a large number of users to delete their accounts.

Gizmodo has repeatedly asked Facebook since April when this new unsend feature is coming, most recently sending its PR team a message today. They haven’t told us anything. But rest assured that we’ll let you know as soon as Facebook tells us anything that isn’t bullshit. We’re not holding our breath.


Update, 3:23pm: A Facebook Messenger spokesperson just sent us this message:

Though we have nothing to announce today, we have previously confirmed that we intend to ship a feature like this and are still planning to do so.


We’ll believe it when we see it.

Update, October 12, 2018, 3:12pm: In a beautifully timed “tip” to Techcruch, it appears that Facebook might be testing a new “unsend” feature.


From Techcrunch:

Now we have our first look at the feature thanks to TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She’s managed to generate screenshots of a prototype Unsend button from Facebook Messenger’s Android code. Other Facebook prototypes discovered by Wong like the Your Activity screentime dashboard, Instagram’s video calling and music stickers, and more features have gone on to receive official launches.


As Techcrunch notes, it’s probably a really bad idea to actually deliver on this feature since it seems like a great tool for gaslighting and harassment. But that’s all the more reason Facebook will probably do it. Burn it all down, Facebook. Make our lives even worse.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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I wonder what issues there would be if they implement this, and someone can delete their messages that were sent to harass (especially sexual or bullying) somebody. Does the victim then lose the evidence if they want to report it? What about a permission or request that somebody is going to rely on, is there any anti-repudiation protection?