Facebook beefs up privacy, security staff amid ongoing scrutiny over data collection practices

Two big hires were announced on the same day news broke that Facebook paid users between 13 and 35 years old up to $20 to install an app that collected data on their private messages in social media apps, photos and videos, emails, browsing history, location information and other data.

Although Facebook seems unable to stop infuriating tech watchdogs, the company’s efforts to regain the public’s trust have made quantifiable progress in at least one category: hiring more humans to work on safety and security.

Colin Stretch, a vice president and general counsel, told Congress in 2017 Facebook would double staff in those areas to more than 20,000 employees by the end of 2018 in response to outrage following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The company now has roughly 30,000 employees assigned to safety and security, Nathaniel Gleicher, head of the cybersecurity policy, said Tuesday at a panel at the State of the Net Conference in Washington.

Recent additions to the privacy team include Nate Cardozo, an established Facebook critic from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Robyn Greene, who is leaving her role at the Open Technology Institute to focus on law enforcement access and data protection issues at the social media company.

Both hires were announced Tuesday, the same day TechCrunch reported Facebook paid users between ages 13 and 35 years old up to $20 to install an app that collected data on their private messages in social media apps, photos and videos, emails, browsing history, location information and other data. The app, called “Facebook Research,” acted as a virtual-private-network that Apple said violated the terms of its App Store.


“Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

Facebook says Facebook Research will no longer be available on iOS, though it will continue to be available for Android users.

The Federal Trade Commission also has discussed imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook after the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica accessed information on more than 87 million users without their knowledge, the Washington Post reported.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, which has jurisdiction over Facebook in the European Union, reportedly is seeking more information about the Research app. Irish regulators already said they will be closely scrutinizing Facebook’s reported integration of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. Each service will be protected with end-to-end encryption under the current plan, the New York Times reported, though incorporating three previously standalone services has raised questions about whether users will need to provide more information to Facebook.

“It must be emphasized that ultimately the proposed integration can only occur in the EU if it is capable of meeting all of the requirements of the GDPR,” Ireland’s DPC said in a statement this week.

Jeff Stone

Written by Jeff Stone

Jeff Stone is the editor-in-chief of CyberScoop, with a special interest in cybercrime, disinformation and the U.S. justice system. He previously worked as an editor at the Wall Street Journal, and covered technology policy for sites including the Christian Science Monitor and the International Business Times.

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