Facebook has admitted to secretly deleting private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The messages disappearing from people’s inboxes act was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with.
It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years.
Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.
The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data.
“After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said.
“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.”
The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.
Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.
The latest news follows a siege of bad publicity for the technology giant, mostly surrounding its handling of user data.
Mr Zuckerberg is set to appear before Congress next week to answer questions concerning data collection and user privacy in the wake of revelations that the British firm Cambridge Analytica used the personal information of Facebook users in order to target them political ads.