Aran Khanna, the Harvard student who lost out on his summer internship at Facebook after he highlighted privacy issues with the platform’s mobile Messenger, has hit back at the social media giant.
Writing about his experience in the Harvard Journal of Technology Science the student raised the question of privacy and data collection:
“What does this say about privacy protection? Can we reasonably expect Facebook or others with an interest in collecting and sharing personal data, to be responsible guardians of privacy? Could this work have been done inside Facebook to understand how its users view the collection and sharing of their data?”
Aran Khanna’s application, Marauder’s Map – in tribute to the Harry Potter book series – was a Chrome extension that used data from Facebook Messenger to map where users were when they sent messages.
Explaining his project in The Huffington Post, he said:
"We are constantly being told how we are losing privacy with the increasing digitization of our lives, however the consequences never seem tangible. With this code you can see for yourself the potentially invasive usage of the information you share, and decide for yourself if this is something you should worry about."
His application went viral and was downloaded by 85,000 users until the social media giant ordered Mr Khanna to disable it, which he did.
However, two hours before he was scheduled to leave to start the internship, Facebook called him up to withdraw their internship offer, Boston.com reports.
Facebook maintains that the wannabe-intern was let go for misusing user data and not for highlighting Messenger app's privacy problems.
"We began developing improvements to location-sharing months ago, based on inputs from people who use Messenger. His (Khanna's) mapping tool scrapped Facebook data in a way that violated our terms, and those terms exist to protect people's privacy and safety," Facebook said.
However, Mr Khanna, who is of Indian origin, told the Indo-Asian News Service that he had complied with Facebook’s request to remove the code. “My intentions were never malicious: I simply sought to draw attention to a privacy issue that I knew many people were unaware of,” he added.