Facebook retracted Zuckerberg’s messages from recipients’ inboxes

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You can’t remove Facebook messages from the inboxes of people you sent them to, but Facebook did that for Mark Zuckerberg and other executives. Three sources confirm to TechCrunch that old Facebook messages they received from Zuckerberg have disappeared from their Facebook inboxes, while their own replies to him conspiculously remain. An email receipt of a Facebook message from 2010 reviewed by TechCrunch proves Zuckerberg sent people messages that no longer appear in their Facebook chat logs or in the files available from Facebook’s Download Your Information tool.

When asked by TechCrunch about the situation, Facebook claimed it was done for corporate security in 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.”

However, Facebook never publicly disclosed the removal of messages from users’ inboxes, nor privately informed the recipients. That raises the question of whether this was a breach of user trust. When asked that question directly over Messenger, Zuckerberg declined to provide a statement.

Tampering With Users’ Inboxes

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that users can only delete messages their own inboxes, and that they would still show up in the recipient’s thread. There appears to be no “retention period” for normal users’ messages, as my inbox shows messages from as early as 2005. That indicates Zuckerberg and other executives received special treatment in being able to pull back previously sent messages.

Facebook chats sent by Zuckerberg from several years ago or older were missing from the inboxes of both former employees and non-employees. What’s left makes it look the recipients were talking to themselves, as only their side of back-and-forth conversations with Zuckerberg still appear. Three sources asked to remain anonymous out of fear of angering Zuckerberg or burning bridges with the company.

[Update: Recent messages from Zuckerberg remain in users’ inboxes. Old messages from before 2014 still appear to some users, indicating the retraction did not apply to all chats the CEO sent. But more sources have come forward since publication, saying theirs disappeared as well.]

None of Facebook’s terms of service appear to give it the right to remove content from users’ accounts unless it violates the company’s community standards. While it’s somewhat standard for corporations to have data retention policies that see them delete emails or other messages from their own accounts that were sent by employees, they typically can’t remove the messages from the accounts of recipients outside the company. It’s rare that these companies own the communication channel itself and therefore host both sides of messages as Facebook does in this case, which potentially warrants a different course of action with more transparency than quietly retracting the messages.

Facebook’s power to tamper with users’ private message threads could alarm some. The issue is amplified by the fact that Facebook Messenger now has 1.3 billion users, making it one of the most popular communication utilities in the world.

Zuckerberg is known to have a team that helps him run his Facebook profile, with some special abilities for managing his 105 million followers and constant requests for his attention. For example, Zuckerberg’s profile doesn’t show a button to add him as a friend on desktop, and the button is grayed out and disabled on mobile. But the ability to change the messaging inboxes of other users is far more concerning.

Facebook may have sought to prevent leaks of sensitive corporate communications. Following the Sony hack, emails of Sony’s president Michael Lynton who sat on Snap Inc’s board were exposed, revealing secret acquisitions and strategy.

Mark Zuckerberg during the early days of Facebook

However, Facebook may have also looked to thwart the publication of potentially embarrassing personal messages sent by Zuckerberg or other executives. In 2010, Silicon Valley Insider published now-infamous instant messages from a 19-year-old Zuckerberg to a friend shortly after starting The Facebook in 2004. “yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard . . . just ask . . . i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns” Zuckerberg wrote to a friend. “what!? how’d you manage that one?” they asked. “people just submitted it . .  i don’t know why . . . they “trust me” . . . dumb fucks” Zuckerberg explained.

The New Yorker later confirmed the messages with Zuckerberg, who told the publication he “absolutely” regretted them. “If you’re going to go on to build a service that is influential and that a lot of people rely on, then you need to be mature, right? I think I’ve grown and learned a lot” said Zuckerberg.

If the goal of Facebook’s security team was to keep a hacker from accessing the accounts of executives and therefore all of their messages, they could have merely been deleted on their side the way any Facebook user is free to do, without them disappearing from the various recipients’ inboxes. If Facebook believed it needed to remove the messages entirely from its servers in case the company’s backend systems we breached, a disclosure of some kind seems reasonable.

Now as Facebook encounters increased scrutiny regarding how it treats users’ data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the retractions could become a bigger issue. Zuckerberg is slated to speak in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on April 10 as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11. They could request more information about Facebook removing messages or other data from users’ accounts without their consent. While Facebook is trying to convey that it understands its responsibilities, the black mark left on public opinion by past behavior may prove permanent.

If you have more info on this situation, including evidence of messages from other Facebook executives disappearing, please contact this article’s author Josh Constine via open Twitter DMs, josh@techcrunch.com, or encrypted Signal chat at (585)750-5674.

For more on Facebook’s recent troubles, read our feature pieces:

 

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A Journal Retracted A Controversial Paper About CRISPR. The Damage Might Already Be Done.

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A scientific journal just retracted a controversial study that claimed the gene editing tool CRISPR causes a number of unintended mutations, but it may be too late to undo the damage the paper caused.

Let’s walk it back a second. In May 2017, well-respected journal Nature Methods published a peer-reviewed study from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The study claimed that the gene-editing technology CRISPR caused more than a thousand unintended genetic mutations in mice  way more than any other study noted.

If that were true, it would mean that CRISPR’s potential to treat conditions in humans, from congenital blindness to cancer, would have disappeared. And the millions poured into researching CRISPR would have been wasted.

The reaction was swift and brutal for those who still had faith that CRISPR could fulfill its promise. The stocks of the three biggest gene-editing companies — CRISPR Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, and Intellia Therapeutics — all took major hits.

Except the study wasn’t actually all that legitimate.

Shortly after Nature Methods published the paper, other CRISPR researchers began pointing out its flaws, calling upon the journal to retract the study. Nature Methods responded with an Editorial Note on June 14 highlighting these criticisms. Then, on July 25, it published an Editorial Expression of Concern saying it was investigating the authors’ interpretation that gene editing causes mutations.

Now, more than 10 months later, the publication has officially retracted the paper. On March 30, Nature Methods published an editorial noting the retraction and the primary reason behind it: “There was insufficient data to support the claim of unexpected off-target effects due to CRISPR.” There could be a few different reasons for that, as one researcher previously noted on Twitter:

 

The experts that had opposed the paper’s original findings were vindicated; the journal also published five expert critiques of the study.

So the misinformation was corrected (though, strangely, several of the study’s original authors did not agree to the retraction, as the notice points out). The system of scientific publishing still works, and errors were rapidly remedied.

All good, right? No harm done?

Perhaps not. There are some bells you just can’t un-ring, especially when questionable studies confirm people’s fears about a particular advance. The purported link between vaccines and autism persists, no matter that the paper that started it all was retracted, and no matter how many times researchers debunk it.

Gene editing in humans was already controversial before the Nature Methods study. Skeptics warned of a future filled with “designer babies” and increased income inequality. And that was all assuming that the technology actually worked. If they were looking for “proof” that CRISPR was dangerous, they now had a scientific study to bolster their claim.

Even with the retraction, that “proof” that gene editing causes mutations is already out in the ether. It’ll stick in some people minds, no doubt.

Some scientists, including Harvard geneticist George Church, weren’t worried about the dip in stock prices. “This seems like a great example of rapidly self-correcting science… I was never worried.  Some investors look for opportunities to sell high then buy back low and then watch the rebound — based more on herd psychology than lab science,” Church told publishing watchdog Retraction Watch

But scientists don’t just need to agree that CRISPR is safe and effective in humans. They also have to convince the public that it is, and that’s much harder to do when respected journals present flawed conclusions about gene editing as fact.

The post A Journal Retracted A Controversial Paper About CRISPR. The Damage Might Already Be Done. appeared first on Futurism.

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