Facebook admits even it doesn't know what happens to your private data

Leaked internal documents from Facebook reveal that the company has almost no idea where user data goes after entering the system.

Published Apr 28, 2022 4:22 AM CDT   |   Updated Wed, Jul 27 2022 3:46 AM CDT
2 minutes & 17 seconds read time

Facebook is under pressure from several regulators worldwide to change how it handles users' data.

Facebook admits even it doesn't know what happens to your private data 01

A leaked internal document written in 2021 obtained from Facebook by Motherboard shows that Facebook was "surprised" by a "tsunami of inbound regulations," and privacy engineers on its Ad and Business Product team are sounding alarm bells within the company to institute change to prevent trouble with regulators. The document uses the acronyms 3PD, 1PD, and SCD to refer to third-party data, first-party data, and sensitive categories data, respectively.

"We've built systems with open borders. The result of these open systems and open culture is well described with an analogy: Imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data (3PD, 1PD, SCD, Europe, etc.) 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 reads.

"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.' And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation," reads one of the documents key summary points.

The problem of where data goes is referred to internally by Facebook as "data lineage." In order to comply with regulations such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), personal data can only be "collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes." The document reveals that while Facebook has a grasp on how much data is stored in its data centers, its understanding of where the data goes is a "complete shitshow."

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