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Facebook’s secret initiative to snoop on Snapchat users, revealed

By 27 marzo, 2024No Comments
A dark control room with people at desks facing a large screen in the background, the wall has a large Facebook logo on it. The screen shows the Snapchat logo and contains data on users, 3d render, illustration

Newly unsealed documents from a federal court in California are accusing Meta of snooping on Snapchat, YouTube, and Amazon users through their covert ‘Project Ghostbusters.’

The court released the documents on Tuesday (Mar. 26) from a class action lawsuit between consumers and Meta, revealing further insight into the technology conglomerate.

According to TechCrunch, the secret Facebook initiative was launched in 2016 and aimed to intercept and decrypt the encrypted network traffic between Snapchat’s app users and its servers.

It’s reported that the parent company of Facebook then extensively analyzed the network traffic patterns to gain an advantage over its competitors. It’s said this was able to be carried out through the VPN-like service Onavo that the Meta-based company acquired in 2013.

Onavo was eventually shut down just some years later in 2019 due to an investigation that revealed that Facebook had been secretly paying teenagers to use the software so the company could access all of their web activity.

Court documents suggest the technique was later used for the video-sharing website YouTube and online shopping site Amazon.

Facebook wanted ‘reliable analytics’ for Snapchat

Within the documents, it’s reported that emails discussing the project were also leaked. On June 9, 2016, Mark Zuckerberg is believed to have sent an email saying: “When someone asks a question about Snapchat, the answer is usually that because their traffic is encrypted we have no analytics about them.”

“Given how quickly they’re growing, it seems important to figure out a new way to get reliable analytics about them. Perhaps we need to do panels or write custom software. You should figure out how to do this.”

The Onavo team is then thought to have taken on the project which allowed them “to read what would otherwise be encrypted traffic so we can measure in-app usage.”

Not all of the Facebook team was in favor of the project, including the then-head of infrastructure engineering Jay Parikh and then-head of security engineering Pedro Canahuati.

An email is included in the court documents from Canahuati who wrote: “I can’t think of a good argument for why this is okay. No security person is ever comfortable with this, no matter what consent we get from the general public.

“The general public just doesn’t know how this stuff works…”

These documents come amidst numerous legal challenges against Meta. Just this month, the U.S. appeals court rejected Meta’s bid to halt a privacy investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Featured Image: Photo by Grant S on Unsplash

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