Facebook Secretly Monitored Users' Snapchat Activity In A Covert Project

In the year 2016, Facebook initiated a confidential endeavor aimed at intercepting and decoding the network communication between individuals utilizing Snapchat’s phone application and its servers. The objective was to gain insights into user behavior and enhance Facebook’s competitive position against Snapchat, as per recently revealed court records. Facebook dubbed this initiative “Project Ghostbusters,” a direct allusion to Snapchat’s ghost-themed logo.

On Tuesday, March 26, 2024, newly uncovered documents from a federal court in California have been made public as part of the class action lawsuit involving consumers and Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

The recently disclosed documents shed light on Meta’s efforts to secure a competitive edge over rivals such as Snapchat, and subsequently Amazon and YouTube, by examining the network activity of its users engaging with these competitors. Due to the encryption utilized by these platforms, Facebook had to devise specialized technology to circumvent it.

In an email dated June 9, 2016, published as part of the lawsuit, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed, “Whenever someone asks a question about Snapchat, the answer is usually that, because their traffic is encrypted, we have no analytics about them.” Zuckerberg highlighted the significance of obtaining dependable analytics on Snapchat’s rapid growth and suggested exploring alternative methods such as panels or custom software development to achieve this goal.

Following Zuckerberg’s email, the Onavo (a service similar to a VPN) team assumed responsibility for the project and, a month later, presented a proposal: kits that could be installed on iOS and Android devices to intercept traffic for particular subdomains. An email from July 2016 stated, “This is a ‘man-in-the-middle’ approach, enabling us to analyze in-app usage by decrypting what would typically be encrypted traffic.”

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