Secret Documents Unveil Facebook’s Covert Monitoring of Snapchat Users

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Written By Vikas Jangid

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  • A federal court in California has unveiled fresh documents showing that Facebook attempted to snoop on Snapchat users.
  • The covert operation, dubbed Project Ghostbusters, involved using MITM (Man-in-the-Middle) attacks to obtain sensitive user information.
  • In addition to targeting Snapchat, the project was also utilized to gather user data from YouTube and Amazon.

Meta’s Covert Project: Project Ghostbusters

Meta has faced criticism once more for its privacy practices. Recent leaks exposed a covert project in which Facebook's app reportedly monitored Snapchat user activity. Here's the scoop you should know.

In 2016, Facebook launched a covert initiative named "Project Ghostbusters." The goal of this project was to intercept and decipher the communication between Snapchat's servers and its users "to comprehend users’ behavior."

Source: Twitter/TechCrush 

This was likely an attempt to gain a competitive advantage against Snapchat's growing popularity. According to the records, "Project Ghostbusters" was named as a nod to Snapchat's ghost logo, indicating its clandestine nature.

On Tuesday, a federal court in California made public the documents as part of the legal dispute between users and Meta. The documents also uncovered Meta's attempts to carry out similar actions with Amazon and YouTube.

Facebook's clandestine project was integrated into the company's IAPP program (In-App Action Panel). The program was established to outmaneuver competitors by intercepting and decoding their traffic.

How Facebook Spied on Snapchat Users

In an email revealed during the lawsuit, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, "Whenever someone asks about Snapchat, the usual response is that since their traffic is encrypted, we lack analytics on them."

He also mentioned, "Considering their rapid growth, it's crucial to find a new method to obtain reliable analytics about them. Maybe we need to implement panels or develop custom software. You should explore how to accomplish this."

A group of Facebook engineers proposed the use of Onavo via "kits" as a solution. These kits could be installed on iOS and Android devices to intercept traffic, effectively constituting a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack.

Once the project succeeded, an email stated, "We now possess the ability to track detailed in-app activity" by "analyzing Snapchat [sic] data collected from incentivized participants in Onavo's research program."

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