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Mark Zuckerberg deletes his Facebook messages

April 6 · Issue #114 · View online
The Interface
At some point in 2015, Facebook executives began noticing a peculiar phenomenon in their Messenger inboxes. About a week after he sent them, chats sent from Mark Zuckerberg disappeared. When they asked around about why this happened, they were told it had something to do with security. “Once in a while I thought it was weird that he would have his messages deleted,” a former executive told me today. “But I guess I’d just thought to myself, well, he owns it so I guess he can.”
Late Thursday night, thanks to the work of Josh Constine, the rest of the world learned of the scheme. Facebook had been secretly deleting all of Zuckerberg’s sent messages beginning around three years ago — not just to coworkers, but to journalists and apparently everyone else he communicated with on the platform. Here was the company’s rationale, as told to Constine:
“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.” 
Of course, prior to Constine’s inquiry, the world was unaware that messages sent by Zuckerberg had any “retention period” at all. The assumption was that the CEO lived by the privacy rules that governed his platform — privacy rules that he has stridently defended in past weeks amid a series of intersecting crises involving data leaks, regulatory action, and Congressional hearings.
“We have a responsibility to protect your information,” Zuckerberg wrote in a full-page advertisement published March 5 in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, along with several British newspapers. “If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”
The responsibility to protect people’s information would seemingly include a promise not to delete users’ conversations with the CEO in secret. But that assumption relies on the belief that Facebook’s privacy rules apply to all of its users equally. Last night a journalist forced the company to acknowledge that, in fact, they do not.
Surely, many users — including Zuckerberg’s fellow executives — would appreciate the ability to unsend a message sent in error or bad judgment. The entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski popularized the idea that our data is like toxic waste. In 2015 he wrote:
I would … ask you to imagine data not as a pristine resource, but as a waste product, a bunch of radioactive, toxic sludge that we don’t know how to handle. 
In a world where everything is tracked and kept forever, like the world we’re for some reason building, you become hostage to the worst thing you’ve ever done.
Whoever controls that data has power over you, whether or not they exercise it. And yet we treat this data with the utmost carelessness, as if it held no power at all.
Mark Zuckerberg knew this better than most. In 2010, Zuckerberg’s instant message history from college were leaked to Silicon Alley Insider. The most famous section reads like a satire of Facebook’s privacy policy:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
Zuckerberg later said he regretted sending the messages, and that he had matured in the years since. (He was 19 at the time he sent them.) But his maturity went beyond a new commitment to user privacy. It extended to a new understanding, crystallized in his secret unsend button, of old messages as the toxic waste that they are. (The fact that he clearly understood this in 2010 made it rather odd that Facebook would attribute its decision to destroy user data to the Sony hack four years later.) 
But rather than bring that product to the masses, for three years he kept the feature to himself. This morning, as Facebook’s internal “storm tracker” PR tool awoke to a new backlash against the company, the communications team said that it would bring the feature to all users “in several months.” The company will also stop deleting Zuckerberg’s messages until everyone else can. “We should have done this sooner — and we’re sorry that we did not,” a spokesman said.
The good news is that Facebook knows how to build robust privacy tools when it wants to. The bad news is that it reserved such a powerful tool for the CEO, and admitted to it only under duress. That Zuckerberg deleted all of his chats, while leaving his recipients’ messages intact, says more about how he views privacy than any belated apology ever could.

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“This Is a Struggle of Regular Working People”
And finally ...
Harrison Weber / Twitter
Until now, millions have been afraid to try Snapchat out of fear that the app may not contribute to human progress. Thanks to a tweet from Harrison Weber, we now know that Snap Inc. does, in fact, contribute to human progress, according to a line added to its investor website this week.
Congratulations to Snap, and may all of you contribute to human progress this weekend.
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