Facebook Accused of Secretly Wiretapping Snapchat Through Users' Phones in 'Project Ghostbusters,' Documents Reveal

By Leira Aquino

Mar 26, 2024 11:43 PM EDT

Court filings released from a California federal court detail Meta's efforts to gain a competitive edge over rivals like Snapchat, Amazon, and YouTube by analyzing user interactions through network traffic data.
(Photo : MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Newly unsealed court documents on Tuesday revealed allegations against Facebook for secretly obtaining proprietary data from competitors, including Snapchat, through the 'Project Ghostbusters' program called 'In-App Action Panel (IAAP).' 

According to internal emails disclosed in these documents, the IAAP program, initiated at CEO Mark Zuckerberg's behest, was operational from 2016 until mid-2019.

Court Filings Expose Facebook's Covert Surveillance Tactics

The program allegedly employed cyberattacks to intercept information from Snapchat, YouTube, and Amazon and decrypt it for Facebook's competitive advantage. 

Lawyers representing plaintiffs, who are advertisers, in a lawsuit against Facebook for anti-competitive behavior cited these documents, revealing Facebook's maneuvers to gain insights into Snapchat's growth trajectory. 

In one email exchange, Zuckerberg expressed the necessity of acquiring information about Snapchat.

"Given how quickly they're growing, it seems important to figure out a new way to get reliable analytics about them," he wrote. "Perhaps we need to do panels or write custom software. You should figure out how to do this."

This directive led to exploring methods such as custom software development and user panels.

Further document revelations indicate Facebook's intention to incentivize users to install software capable of intercepting information, including employing techniques like "man in the middle" cyberattacks. 

Guy Rosen, founder of Onavo, a company acquired by Facebook in 2013, later wrote that they would devise a plan for a lockdown effort in June to enhance their Snapchat visibility significantly.

Initially targeting Snapchat, the IAAP program expanded its scope to encompass YouTube and Amazon. 

READ NEXT: South Korea Regulator May Sanction Meta Over Facebook and Instagram Marketplaces: Report

Facebook Accused of Violating Wiretapping Laws

According to a Snap executive's deposition, the data obtained through this program reportedly influenced Facebook's product strategies and impacted Snap's advertising capabilities.

Plaintiffs allege violations of federal wiretapping laws, specifically the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. 

Prosecutors argue that Facebook's actions constitute illegal interception and disclosure of electronic communications, a charge vehemently denied by Meta.

Despite the allegations, Meta contends that the claims are baseless and irrelevant to the ongoing legal proceedings, according to its email to Gizmondo.

"The plaintiffs' claims are baseless and completely irrelevant to the case," a Meta spokesperson stated. 

The federal court in northern California is handling the case.

READ MORE: Apple, Google, and Meta Face Potential Billion-Dollar Fines From European Commission Over Market Violations

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