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Facebook has lost control of user data, leaked documents claim

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Facebook does not know how the massive amounts of data it collects is used, a new leaked document alleges.

“We’ve built systems with open borders… imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data,” an internal report from the company leaked to Motherboard described.

“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?”

The document, written last year by Facebook’s privacy engineers on the Ad and Business Product team, said that Facebook “do[es] not have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data”.

It continued: “Thus we can’t confidently make controlled policy changes or external commitments such as ‘we will not use X data for Y purpose.’ And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation.”

A Meta spokesperson told The Independent that the document “does not describe our extensive processes and controls to comply with privacy regulations” and that “it’s simply inaccurate to conclude that it demonstrates non-compliance. New privacy regulations across the globe introduce different requirements and this document reflects the technical solutions we’re building to scale the current measures we have in place to manage data and meet our obligations.

With regards to the lake analogy, the spokesperson said that it “lacks the context that we do, in fact, have extensive processes and controls to manage data and comply with privacy regulations.” A lack of context in Facebook’s internal reports is also the reason Instagram gave to alleviate damning reports of the harm it does to young people with body image issues in September last year following the various revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The document suggests that there is a “data free-for-all inside Facebook, and that the company has no control whatsoever over the data it holds,” said Johnny Ryan, a privacy activist and senior fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Facebook is reportedly attempting to get ahead of privacy laws and building infrastructure to meet requirements, but there would need to be significant investment in it. This is apparently a priority for the company.

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