Facebook employees stalk users

Moral hazard vs the ACCESS Act.

Cory Doctorow
6 min readJul 14, 2021


An eye peeking through a keyhole set into a rusty steel door. The door has a Matrix waterfall effect superimposed over it. The eye’s pupil has been replaced by the HAL9000 red eye from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The center of the pupil has a Facebook thumbs-up/like icon in it. Image: Cryteria (modified): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HAL9000.svg John Lodder (modified): https://www.flickr.com/photos/denisdefreyne/863085355/ Denis Defreyne (modified): https://www.flickr.com/photos/denis

In Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang’s “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination,” the authors recount the company’s long history of insider threats in which employees (mostly men) used the company’s tools to stalk people (mostly women).


The stalking targets included both strangers and intimate partners — for example, an engineer used FB’s tools to locate his partner after she fled their shared vacation hotel room in order to “confront her.”


Another FB engineer stalked a woman who didn’t return his messages after a date, accessing years of private messages and photos, including photos that his target believed she had permanently deleted, but which Facebook had secretly retained.

All told, Facebook fired 52 employees for data abuses between Jan 2014 and Aug 2015, after a policy change eliminated many access safeguards in the name of eliminating “the red tape that slowed down engineers.”

In other words, Facebook was in a situation in which its users’ interests were at odds with its shareholders. By eliminating protections for its users, it allowed its engineers to work more efficiently, and increased its profits.

These kinds of conflicts — between shareholder and stakeholder interests — are the norm in business. Think of a busy retailer that cuts its cashiers: reducing payroll costs increases profits, at the expense of worker stress and longer waits for customers.

The question of how much value can be shifted from employees and customers to shareholders isn’t really an economic one — it’s really a policy question.

If we have strong labor laws — protecting cashiers from undue stress, extending unemployment benefits to workers who quit bad jobs, protecting workers from non-compete clauses, separating health-care from employment — then a business that screws its cashiers will lose them.

Meanwhile, the balance between customers’ interests and shareholders’ is likewise a creature of…



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr