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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Read Mark Zuckerberg’s media Q&A on data security

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Yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a call with the media in which he spoke about the Cambridge Analytica situation and how Facebook is working to protect its users' data going forward. The transcript of that call, including the Q&A th…
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Highlights and audio from Zuckerberg’s emotional Q&A on scandals

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“This is going to be a never-ending battle” said Mark Zuckerberg . He just gave the most candid look yet into his thoughts about Cambridge Analytica, data privacy, and Facebook’s sweeping developer platform changes today during a conference call with reporters. Sounding alternately vulnerable about his past negligence and confident about Facebook’s strategy going forward, Zuckerberg took nearly an hour of tough questions.

You can listen to the entire on-the-record call here, which I recorded with Facebook’s consent:

The CEO started the call by giving his condolences to those affected by the shooting at YouTube yesterday. He then delivered this mea culpa on privacy:

We’re an idealistic and optimistic company . . . but it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well . . . We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is and that was a huge mistake. That was my mistake.

It’s not enough to just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive and that they’re bringing people together.  It’s not enough just to give people a voice, we have to make sure that people are not using that voice to hurt people or spread misinformation. And it’s not enough to give people tools to sign into apps, we have to make sure that all those developers protect people’s information too.

It’s not enough to have rules requiring that they protect the information. It’s not enough to believe them when they’re telling us they’re protecting information. We actually have to ensure that everyone in our ecosystem protects people’s information.”

This is Zuckerberg’s strongest statement yet about his and Facebook’s failure to anticipate worst-case scenarios, which has led to a string of scandals that are now decimating the company’s morale. Spelling out how policy means nothing without enforcement, and pairing that with a massive reduction in how much data app developers can request from users makes it seem like Facebook is ready to turn over a new leaf.

Here are the highlights from the rest of the call:

On Zuckerberg calling fake news’ influence “crazy”: “I clearly made a mistake by just dismissing fake news as crazy — as having an impact . . . it was too flippant. I never should have referred to it as crazy.

On deleting Russian trolls: Not only did Facebook delete 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Russian government-connected election interference troll farm the Internet Research Agency, as Facebook announced yesterday. Zuckerberg said Facebook removed “a Russian news organization that we determined was controlled and operated by the IRA”.

On the 87 million number: Regarding today’s disclosure that up to 87 million people had their data improperly access by Cambridge Analytica, “it very well could be less but we wanted to put out the maximum that we felt it could be as soon as we had that analysis.” Zuckerberg also referred to The New York Times’ report, noting that “We never put out the 50 million number, that was other parties.”

On users having their public info scraped: Facebook announced this morning that “we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped” via its search by phone number or email address feature and account recovery system. Scammers abused these to punch in one piece of info and then pair it to someone’s name and photo . Zuckerberg said search features are useful in languages where it’s hard to type or a lot of people have the same names. But “the methods of react limiting this weren’t able to prevent malicious actors who cycled through hundreds of thousands of IP addresses and did a relatively small number of queries for each one, so given that and what we know to day it just makes sense to shut that down.”

On when Facebook learned about the scraping and why it didn’t inform the public sooner: This was my question, and Zuckerberg dodged, merely saying Facebook had looked more closely at it in the last few days.”

On implementing GDPR worldwide: Zuckerberg refuted a Reuters story from yesterday saying that Facebook wouldn’t bring GDPR privacy protections to the U.S. and elsewhere. Instead he says, “we’re going to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe.”

On if board has discussed him stepping down as chairman: “Not that I’m aware of” Zuckerberg said happily.

On if he still thinks he’s the best person to run Facebook: “Yes. Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward . . . I think what people should evaluate us on is learning from our mistakes . . .and if we’re building things people like and that make their lives better . . . there are billions of people who love the products we’re building.”

On the Boz memo and prioritizing business over safety: “The things that makes our product challenging to manage and operate are not the tradeoffs between people and the business. I actually think those are quite easy because over the long-term, the business will be better if you serve people. I think it would be near-sighted to focus on short-term revenue over people, and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted. All the hard decisions we have to make are tradeoffs between people. Different people who use Facebook have different needs. Some people want to share political speech that they think is valid, and other people feel like it’s hate speech . . . we don’t always get them right.”

On whether Facebook can audit all app developers: “We’re not going to be able to go out and necessarily find every bad use of data” Zuckerberg said, but confidently said “I actually do think we’re going to be be able to cover a large amount of that activity.

On whether Facebook will sue Cambridge Analytica: “We have stood down temporarily to let the [UK government] do their investigation and their audit. Once that’s done we’ll resume ours … and ultimately to make sure none of the data persists or is being used improperly. And at that point if it makes sense we will take legal action if we need to do that to get people’s information.”

On how Facebook will measure its impact on fixing privacy: Zuckerberg wants to be able to measure “the prevalence of different categories of bad content like fake news, hate speech, bullying, terrorism. . . That’s going to end up being the way we should be held accountable and measured by the public . . .  My hope is that over time the playbook and scorecard we put out will also be followed by other internet platforms so that way there can be a standard measure across the industry.”

On whether Facebook should try to earn less money by using less data for targeting “People tell us if they’re going to see ads they want the ads to be good . . . that the ads are actually relevant to what they care about . . On the one hand people want relevant experiences, and on the other hand I do think there’s some discomfort with how data is used in systems like ads. But I think the feedback is overwhelmingly on the side of wanting a better experience. Maybe it’s 95-5.”

On whether #DeleteFacebook has had an impact on usage or ad revenue: “I don’t think there’s been any meaningful impact that we’ve observed…but it’s not good.”

On the timeline for fixing data privacy: “This is going to be a never-ending battle. You never fully solve security. It’s an arms race” Zuckerberg said early in the call. Then to close Q&A, he said “I think this is a multi-year effort. My hope is that by the end of this year we’ll have turned the corner on a lot of these issues and that people will see that things are getting a lot better.”

Overall, this was the moment of humility, candor, and contrition Facebook desperately needed. Users, developers, regulators, and the company’s own employees have felt in the dark this last month, but Zuckerberg did his best to lay out a clear path forward for Facebook. His willingness to endure this question was admirable, even if he deserved the grilling.

The company’s problems won’t disappear, and its past transgressions can’t be apologized away. But Facebook and its leader have finally matured past the incredulous dismissals and paralysis that characterized its response to past scandals. It’s ready to get to work.

Mobile – TechCrunch

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The Morning After: Zuckerberg’s apology and Netflix’s new typeface

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Hey, good morning! You look fabulous. Welcome to Thursday. We touch on why deleting Facebook is hard for some of us, squeeze a sorry out of Mark Zuckerberg and test out the comfortable future of Oculus VR.
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Facebook shares are falling because Wall Street doesn’t know what to make of Mark Zuckerberg’s News Feed changes

The stock is down 5 percent

Facebook is re-thinking the way it works, and that will have repercussions for users, advertisers and publishers that use the network.

The overhaul, which will first show up in Facebook’s News Feed, will be a “major change,” says Mark Zuckerberg, who says users may end up spending less time on the site.

Wall Street believes him. And for now, Wall Street thinks this is not good news: Facebook shares dropped 5 percent overnight.

Why? Here’s one theory: “There is too much uncertainty relating to the economic impact of Facebook’s pending News Feed changes for us to be comfortable,” Stifel analyst Scott Devitt said in a note this morning, when he lowered his rating on the stock from “buy” to a “hold” — even though he thinks, “Facebook is doing the right thing for the long-term sustainability of the platform.”

Context: If you bought Facebook shares a week ago, that drop looks pretty scary.

 Screenshot via Yahoo Finance

If you bought them a year ago? No problem. You’re still up more than 40 percent.

 Screenshot via Yahoo Finance

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Mark Zuckerberg’s personal challenge this year is to fix Facebook

He won’t be killing his own food or learning Mandarin. Zuckerberg wants to focus on his company.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sets a personal challenge each year, a kind of public New Year’s resolution that he posts about all year long.

A few years ago he set out to learn Mandarin. He also built a robot butler for his home. Last year, he toured America to spend more time with regular citizens (who were also likely Facebook users).

Zuckerberg’s goal this year: Fix Facebook.

Or at least improve some of the most important elements of Facebook that have gotten the company into hot water over the past 12 months, like its unintended role as a propaganda weapon for Russia during last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Here’s how he described it in a post on Thursday.

The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

You might be thinking: Well isn’t fixing a company’s issues already the job of the CEO?

Yes, it is. And Zuckerberg seems to realize that too, adding that one of the reasons he’s choosing this challenge is so he won’t distract himself from Facebook’s important problems by going around and killing all his own food (that was his 2011 challenge).

“This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face,” Zuckerberg continued. “But I think I’ll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate.”

Zuckerberg has been very philosophical over the past 12 months, regularly posting about his greater ambitions for tech and Facebook in particular. This time, Zuckerberg talked about the importance of “centralization vs decentralization” in tech — in other words, who is benefitting from tech’s tremendous power.

“A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands,” he wrote. “But today, many people have lost faith in that promise. With the rise of a small number of big tech companies — and governments using technology to watch their citizens — many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it.”

Facebook, of course, is one of those “big tech companies” with an immense amount of power. Not only does the company help shape the news for more than two billion people worldwide, but it controls a massive share of the global digital advertising market, which is making it difficult for smaller companies, including media companies, to survive.

But Zuckerberg says he’s thinking about all of that and taking his role as the leader of one of the world’s premier tech giants very seriously.

“This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I’m looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together,” he wrote.

Every year I take on a personal challenge to learn something new. I’ve visited every US state, run 365 miles, built an…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, January 4, 2018


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