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Facebook plans to let everyone unsend messages, won’t let Zuckerberg until then

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TechCrunch reported last night that Facebook retracted Facebook messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other executives from their recipients’ inboxes. That’s an ability normal Facebook users don’t have. But now Facebook tells me it plans to make an “unsend” feature available to all users in several months, and has already been considering how to build this product. Until the unsend feature is released for everyone, Facebook says it won’t unsend or retract any more of Zuckerberg’s messages.

The retractions of Zuckerberg’s messages and those from other users were never previously disclosed until Facebook confirmed the news to TechCrunch last night after we reported having email receipt evidence of messages that have since disappeared. Many users are seeing that as a breach of trust.

For the full story on Zuckerberg’s disappearing messages, check out our feature story:

To recap, three sources confirmed that Facebook messages they had received from Mark Zuckerberg had disappeared from their inboxes. When we told Facebook we had an email receipt proving the retractions,  Facebook gave TechCrunch this statement: “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.”

But tampering with users’ inboxes without disclosure has struck many users a violation of Facebook’s power. Many asked why Zuckerberg and other executives had access to functionality not offered to regular users.

Facebook encrypted “Secret” messaging feature includes an Unsend option with an expiration timer. But Zuckerberg and other executives didn’t use this, and instead had their permanent messages specially retracted.

Facebook tells TechCrunch is hasn’t finalized exactly how the unsend feature will work. A Facebook Messenger spokesperson tells me only possible option is an expiration timer users can set on messages. When the timer runs out, the message would disappear from both their and the recipients’ inboxes. They tell me this is similar to how retractions of Zuckerberg’s messages work.

Facebook already offers a “Secret” encrypted messaging feature that includes an Unsend expiration timer. But this can’t be used in existing traditional Facebook message threads, and instead users have to launch a separate “Secret” conversation. Zuckerberg and other executives weren’t using this feature, and instead had their permanant, non-“Secret” messages retracted. But in the coming months, Facebook will bring either this expiration timer or another way to Unsend messages to all Messenger threads. Facebook didn’t have details about whether recipients would be notified when a message was unsent and retracted from their inboxes.

Beyond the dubious ethics of Facebook manipulating users’ private messaging threads without consent or disclosure, Zuckerberg and other executives, there’s the question of whether and unsend feature is good for Facebook at all. It could make users more willing to share vulnerable, sensitive, or confidential professional messages. But it also might make users paranoid that messages they receive could disappear, leading to anxious screenshotting. It could also lead to abuse if users think they can send offensive content then have it retracted shortly after it’s seen.

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