Facebook Rescinds Internship Offer After Student Exposes Privacy Flaws

August 13, 2015

9:00 am

A Harvard student was rescinded an internship offer at Facebook after it exposed a major privacy flaw in Messenger. The report comes from Boston.com and says three months ago, Harvard undergraduate Aran Khanna had the coveted Silicon Valley internship offer taken away after he created an application that used data from Facebook Messenger to map exactly where your friends were at the time of sending their message.

harry-potter-marauders-map

The Chrome extension – called Marauder’s Map (apropos of the same Harry Potter magical artifact that gave users the ability to see exactly where people were) – exposed the major Facebook privacy flaw in Messenger. Within three days of launching the extension (and after publicizing it through Twitter, Reddit, and a Medium post), it was downloaded by more than 85,000 people until Khanna was asked by Facebook to disable the app.

Facebook then deactivated location sharing from desktops shortly after and released a Messenger app update that gave users full control on when and how to share their GPS data. But prior to that, the company had been sharing automatic geolocation sharing since 2011; it wasn’t until after Khanna’s app exposed the Facebook privacy misgiving that Facebook did anything to address it.

Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld told Boston.com:

“This mapping tool scraped Facebook data in a way that violated our terms, and those terms exist to protect people’s privacy and safety…Despite being asked repeatedly to remove the code, the creator of this tool left it up. This is wrong and it’s inconsistent with how we think about serving our community.”

And Facebook, it seems, did whatever it can to keep Khanna quiet about the whole situation. A day after he posted Marauder’s Map, his would-be manager at Facebook asked him not to talk to press, which was followed by a similar message from Facebook’s global communications lead for privacy and public policy. On the day that the app was deactivated – and a mere two hours before he was to leave to start his internship – Khanna was told by a Facebook employee that his internship offer was being rescinded for violating Facebook’s user agreement.

It’s all pretty shady business, even for a company whose responsibility with online user data and privacy haven’t exactly been extolled. While this news is certainly shocking, it’s likely not a surprise to many. In a report released earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of adults in the United States have very little to no confidence that social media sites like Facebook will keep their personal data private and secure. And, indeed, this recent case adds further support to that belief.

Khanna managed to land himself a summer position at a Silicon Valley startup and has since published a case study in the Harvard Journal of Technology Science documenting the response from the company after exposing the critical Facebook privacy flaw.

(H/T The Next Web)

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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