Facebook Accused of Using Your Phone to Wiretap Snapchat

Meta has a lot through Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook, but it’s not enough for them. The court filing last week alleges that Meta created an internal effort to secretly spy on Snapchat called “Project Ghostbusters.” Meta did it through Onavothe Virtual Private Network (VPN) service offered by the company between 2016 and 2019 which, in the end, it was not a secret at all.

“Whenever someone asks about Snapchat, the answer is usually that because their traffic is private, we don’t have any statistics,” said Mark Zuckerberg. email to three Facebook executives in 2016, unpublished in Meta’s lawsuit filed on Saturday. “It seems necessary to find a new way to get reliable analytics about them… You have to know how to do this.”

Thus, Project Ghostbusters was born. It’s Meta’s internal wire-tapping tool to spy on data analytics from Snapchat since 2016, later used by YouTube and Amazon. This included creating “devices” that could be installed on iOS and Android devices, to reduce the number of other apps, according to the filters. This was described as a “man-in-the-middle” method to get data on Facebook’s opponents, but Onavo users were “men-in-the-middle.”

Meta’s Onavo unit has a history of use destructive methods collecting data on Facebook users. Meta acquired Onavo from an Israeli company 10 years ago, promising users the same internet connection as most VPNs do. However, the work is said to have taken some getting used to Spy on competing social media programs through the millions of people who have downloaded Onavo. It gave Facebook valuable intelligence about its competitors, and court filings this week seem to confirm that.

A group of senior management and approx 41 lawyers worked on Project Ghostbusters, according to court records. The group was very concerned about whether to continue the program despite the media scrutiny. Facebook at last closed Onavo in 2019 Apple launched VPN from its app store.

Prosecutors say Facebook violated the United States Wiretap Act, which prohibits the intentional acquisition of someone’s electronic communications. Onavo could also be considered straight-up spyware, and appears to fall under the definition of wiretapping, according to critics.

Court documents show chats and emails that show Zuckerberg participating in these communications. In 2019, an email was sent to Zuckerberg clearly asking for his decision if SSL decryption (Project Ghostbusters) should stop. However, Meta denies that his CEO was involved in this.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court filing.

Having access to competitors’ statistics would have allowed Facebook to have a huge advantage when it came to advertising sales. Meta has become a powerful force in the advertising industry over the past decade, and competitors like Snapchat don’t hold a candle to Meta’s analytics. Critics say Project Ghostbusters has harmed competition in the advertising industry, adding to their main argument that Meta is the focus of social media.

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