By Emma Nitzsche
A new report revealed that Facebook fired 52 engineers in 2015 after allegedly abusing their access to users’ personal data. According to a report by The Telegraph, the employees supposedly accessed data through Facebook’s internal systems that allowed them to view a user’s location, private messages, and deleted photos.
The report involved multiple cases of male Facebook engineers tracking down their romantic interests. For example, one report discussed a case where a Facebook engineer stalked the data of a woman he wanted to pursue romantically. Though he never spoke to the woman in person, he found her user information on Facebook and viewed all her data. As a result, he discovered that the woman was a regular visitor of Dorles Park in San Francisco, so he would try to go to the park in the hopes that she would run into him.
Another case involved a Facebook engineer who reportedly got into a disagreement with a woman in Europe. The woman tried to get away, but the engineer used her data to track her location and confront her. Additionally, there were multiple reports of engineers looking up women they were interested in dating, but they refrained from engaging with the women in real life.
The Telegraph’s report was based on the new book, “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination” by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. The book describes other cases where Facebook engineers abused their power to spy on women. In one instance, a Facebook engineer spied on a woman who stopped responding to him after a date. The book claims that the engineer had “access to years of private conversations with friends over Facebook messenger, events attended, photographs uploaded (even those she had deleted), and posts she had commented or clicked on. He could even check her location in real-time because she had the Facebook app on her phone.”
In regards to the book’s new allegation, a Facebook spokesperson told Insider that “we’ve always had zero tolerance for abuse and have fired every single employee ever found to be improperly accessing data. 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.”
Alex Stamos, the chief security officer for Facebook, disagrees. In 2015, he noted that more than 16,000 employees had access to private user data. Stamos said that while Facebook fired the 52 employees in 2015, hundreds of others got away with spying on users nearly every month. Although it fell on deaf ears, he recommended tighter employee access and requiring employees to submit formal requests to access data.
One longtime Facebook employee reported that “there were paths [Facebook] could have taken, decisions [Facebook] could have made, which would have limited, or even cut back on, the user data that was collected.”