Dozens of Facebook Engineers Fired Over Abuse of Access to Private User Data, Book Claims
Facebook has often come under fire for policies regarding its use of personal user data, particularly after the massive 2019 leak of private information belonging to some 50 million users in favor of a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica.
Some 52 Facebook employees were fired between January 2014 and August 2015 due to abuse of their access to personal user information, according to a new book, "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination", cited by The Telegraph.
The cases include one man who tracked a woman to her hotel after they had a fight during a trip and another who accessed a former date's location after she stopped responding to his texts. For the latter, it was enough to just find her account and use Facebook's repository that contained even the data that the user preferred to delete.
"He saw the categories in which Facebook had placed her for advertisers: the company had decided that she was in her thirties, was politically left of centre, and led an active lifestyle. She had a wide range of interests, from a love of dogs to holidays in Southeast Asia", the book reads. "And through the Facebook app that she had installed on her phone, he saw her real-time location. It was more information than the engineer could possibly have gotten over the course of a dozen dinners."
Another Facebook staffer accessed the account of a date before they had their first meeting, discovering that she "regularly visited Dolores Park, in San Francisco, and he found her there one day, enjoying the sun with her friends."
© AP Photo / Andrew HarnikIn this April 10, 2018, file photo Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks down as a break is called during his testimony before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington.
In this April 10, 2018, file photo Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks down as a break is called during his testimony before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington.
© AP Photo / Andrew Harnik
Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, the authors of the book, point at how, on average, three Facebook employees were caught exploiting their access to user data for personal means in one month. The authors note that it was "unclear" how many went undetected.
According to the book, it was Alex Stamos, Facebook’s new chief security officer, who alerted top executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, on issues regarding the exploitation of personal user data. Although the problem was brought to the CEO's attention, one employee said that it would be "antithetical" to Zuckerberg's DNA to change a system that appears to allow such breaches due to principles of being "open, transparent, and accessible to all employees".
Stamos implied that "Facebook was doing nothing to solve or prevent what was clearly a systemic problem" as employees violated "the privacy of Facebook users and infiltrate their lives", the authors write.
“Everybody in engineering management knew there were incidents where employees had inappropriately managed data. Nobody had pulled it into one place, and they were surprised at the volume of engineers who had abused data,” Stamos said, according to the book.
"We've always had zero tolerance for abuse and have fired every single employee ever found to be improperly accessing data," a spokesperson said. "Since 2015, we've continued to strengthen our employee training, abuse detection, and prevention protocols. We're also continuing to reduce the need for engineers to access some types of data as they work to build and support our services."