Facebook Reassures Users It Does Not Keep Data, Of Course

September 22, 2022

I bet Facebook, Google, Apple, and other big tech companies have an entire segment of their publicity department constantly writing press releases about how they do not sell nor store user data. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink. They do. The Intercept intercepted another such damage control piece this time from the mouths of Facebook engineers: “Facebook Engineers: We Have No Idea Where We Keep Your Personal Data.”

Two Facebook engineers were interrogated at the hearing regarding the Cambridge Analytica lawsuit about mishandling user information. The engineers were asked the crucial question: “What information, precisely, does Facebook store about us, and where is it?” They responded that they did not know.

Court-appointed, subject matter expert Daniel Garrie grilled the Facebook engineers and neither could tell him in which of Facebook’s fifty-five subsystems user information was stored. They also were unable to answer how to track down every bit of data associated with a single user account. The Facebook engineers are either speaking the truth or were coached, just like the publicity department:

“…Meta spokesperson Dina El-Kassaby told The Intercept that a single engineer’s inability to know where all user data was stored came as no surprise. She said Meta worked to guard users’ data, adding, ‘We have made — and continue making — significant investments to meet our privacy commitments and obligations, including extensive data controls.’”

The lawsuit has been going on for four years. When the court asked Facebook to provide the plaintiff’s information, it gave the same data that can be downloaded from the “Download Your Information” tool. Facebook told the court that any information not included in the provided data was outside the lawsuit’s scope:

“…ignoring the vast quantities of information the company generates through inferences, outside partnerships, and other nonpublic analysis of our habits — parts of the social media site’s inner workings that are obscure to consumers. Briefly, what we think of as “Facebook” is in fact a composite of specialized programs that work together when we upload videos, share photos, or get targeted with advertising. The social network wanted to keep data storage in those nonconsumer parts of Facebook out of court.”

The judge disagreed in 2020 and told Facebook they had to share everything they gathered on the Internet used to monetize information. The Facebook team, however, claims they cannot point to the exact subsystem or application because the social media platform is too complex. Garrie was flabbergasted that a diagram did not exist.

Facebook denies that it even understands how its systems work to avoid data privacy laws.

Facebook’s immensity is unmappable. If the territory is unknown, how can one accept a Facebook statement about what is and is not held within that territory? Ah, El Zucko is surprisingly consistent in my opinion.

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2022

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