Facebook ‘has little idea how its user data is handled’

Facebook and Meta

Engineers working for Facebook have warned that the social network would struggle to comply with privacy regulations, due to a lack of knowledge about how its system uses the data it collects. This revelation comes amid Apple’s refutation of claims that it has profited from iOS privacy changes in 2021 that have damaged Facebook parent company Meta’s advertising business.

On a backdrop of global regulators starting to crack down on how firms collect and handle user data, the challenge facing Facebook as it considers how to operate under more stringent policies was laid bare by a leaked internal report seen by Engadget.

The report in question was put together by privacy engineers on the social media platform’s Ad and Business Product team, with the intention that it be read by the company’s leadership. In it, the engineers wrote that Facebook didn’t have any real way to account for the data it collected. They warned that this, in turn, would make it difficult for Facebook to make promises to countries on how it would treat their citizens’ data.

According to the engineers, the company operates an “open border” policy where data gathered by its systems is consolidated from a range of first-party and third-party sources. Once the data has been consolidated, there is no way of knowing whether or not it came explicitly from Facebook.

In the engineers’ own words: “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.”

These claims emerged shortly before Meta released decidedly mixed earnings figures for the first quarter of 2022. The firm reported its weakest revenue growth for a decade, and pointed to the impact of Apple allowing iPhone users to opt out of advertising tracking.

Apple, on the other hand, is expected to report its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, after enjoying record-breaking ad revenue during the first quarter of the year.

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