Leaked Document Suggests Facebook Is Struggling to Manage Confidential User Data

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 27 Apr 2022

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Facebook has regularly been under the scanner for privacy concerns stemming from its data handling and advertising practices. A newly leaked document suggests the company is struggling much more internally than is evident on the outside.

Engadget reports that a document authored by privacy engineers from the social media giant’s advertising team was sent to the company’s senior management. The document shows that Facebook engineers agree the company has little to no control over how user data is managed internally. Consequently, the engineers warn that Facebook could have a hard time conforming to data privacy requirements outlined by governments and legislators.

“We do not have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data, and thus we can’t confidently make controlled policy changes or external commitments such as ‘we will not use X data for Y purpose,’” wrote the report’s authors. “And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation.”

The document adds that Facebook’s sensitive user data is stored along with first-party and third-party user data. So, controlling how specific chunks of data are used is not straightforward because there is no “closed-form” system in place. The report’s authors compare the data handling challenges to separating a bottle of ink from a lake after the ink mixes with the water.

“This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data. You pour that ink into a lake of water (our open data systems; our open culture) … and it flows … everywhere. How do you put that ink back in the bottle? How do you organize it again, such that it only flows to the allowed places in the lake?”

An anonymous Facebook employee said that where user data goes in the company is “broadly speaking, a complete shitshow.” However, the employee added that the document’s revelations don’t suggest Facebook’s non-compliance with the regulations and government requirements.

To recall, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency policies took a significant toll on Facebook’s ad revenue last year. The company lost close to $10 billion in revenue. While Facebook remains a vocal critic of Apple’s policies, it announced plans to rework its advertising infrastructure to target iPhone users.

[Via Engadget]