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Facebook engineers admit they don’t know what happens to user data, lawsuit filings reveal

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Two engineers at Facebook admitted that they do not know where user data ends up and that the task of figuring out where the data goes would require a team effort. The revelation was made during a discovery hearing in March, which was previously sealed, as part of the long-running lawsuit involving Cambridge Analytica.

The discovery hearing was led by Discovery Special Master Daniel Garrie, who was tasked with determining if Facebook should produce more documents for the case.

A transcript of the hearing, which was recently unsealed, and first reported by The Intercept, revealed that two Facebook engineers, Eugene Zarashow and Steven Elia, said that no engineer at the company knows where the user data ends up.

“It would take multiple teams on the ad side to track down exactly where the data flows,” Zarashow said during the hearing. “I would be surprised if there’s even a single person that can answer that narrow conclusively.”

Tracking where the data ends up is complicated by the platform’s open border policy and the use of 55 different subsystems.

The comments made by the engineers legitimize a leaked internal document from April that said engineers at the company do not have a way of tracking the data collected by the company.

“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,” the internal report stated. “And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation.”

In a statement responding to the unsealed transcript of the hearing, a spokesperson for Meta said: “Our systems are sophisticated and it shouldn’t be a surprise that no single company engineer can answer every question about where each piece of user information is stored. We’ve built one of the most comprehensive privacy programs to oversee data use across our operations and to carefully manage and protect people’s data. We have made — and continue making — significant investments to meet our privacy commitments and obligations, including extensive data controls.”

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