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Court Bombshell Meta Accused Of Illegally Wiretapping Rival For Competitive Edge


Court Bombshell: Meta Accused Of Illegally Wiretapping Rival For Competitive Edge

Court filings unsealed last week allege that Meta, the parent company of Facebook, crafted an internal plan called “Project Ghostbusters” to spy on data analytics from rival app Snapchat. The initiative, which reportedly began in 2016, involved using Meta’s virtual private network (VPN) app Onavo to intercept and monitor traffic from Snapchat and other competitors like YouTube and Amazon.

According to the filings, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was directly involved in efforts to gain insights into Snapchat’s user data. In a 2016 email to Facebook executives, Zuckerberg wrote, “It seems important to figure out a new way to get reliable analytics about them… You should figure out how to do this.” This led to the creation of “kits” that could be installed on iOS and Android devices to intercept traffic from certain apps in a “man-in-the-middle” approach.

The filings reveal that a team of senior executives and around 41 lawyers worked on “Project Ghostbusters.” However, inside Meta, the employees failed to reach a consensus on whether the plan was a good idea. 

They were uncertain about continuing the program amidst press scrutiny. Some of them, including Jay Parikh, Facebook’s then-head of infrastructure engineering, and Pedro Canahuati, the then-head of security engineering, expressed their concern.

“I can’t think of a good argument for why this is okay. No security person is ever comfortable with this, no matter what consent we get from the general public. The general public just doesn’t know how this stuff works,” Canahuati wrote in an email, included in the court documents. Meta ultimately shut down Onavo in 2019 after Apple removed it from the App Store.

Prosecutors allege that Meta violated the United States Wiretap Act, which prohibits the intentional interception of electronic communications. They argue that Onavo could be considered spyware and that its data collection practices amounted to wiretapping.

Meta has pushed back against these claims. “The plaintiffs’ claims are baseless and completely irrelevant to the case,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo. The tech giant has also noted that the issues around Onavo were previously reported years ago.

The ability to access a competitor’s traffic analytics would have provided Meta with a significant advantage in the advertising market. Prosecutors contend that “Project Ghostbusters” harmed competition in the ad industry, bolstering their argument that Meta is a monopoly in social media.

While Meta denies any wrongdoing, the court filings offer insight into the company’s alleged tactics for surveilling rivals and maintaining its dominance in the tech sphere.

Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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