Facebook Gave Hundreds of Remote Employees Access to Messenger Messages

Many scams are circulating on Facebook Marketplace, but to protect the platform, Facebook is, as is often the case, careless with the privacy of users.


Research platform ProPublica comes with an extensive piece about Facebook Marketplace and an endless list of things that go wrong. The platform has been very actively promoted to Facebook users in recent years but also struggles with many scammers that are not detected or are detected late. In some cases, this leads to hacked accounts, theft and even murders.

From (several months ago) unobtainable PlayStation 5 and Xbox consoles to erection pills, vaccination certificates and puppies, Facebook Marketplace is full of ads that are either not allowed or scams. Of course, Facebook itself filters those advertisements automatically, but like with the detection of fake accounts, many things slip through the net.

Based on internal documents and conversations with current and former external employees, ProPublica provides a picture of how Facebook often makes an effort to protect its platform and users but fails.

The consequences are not minor. A woman who bought a second-hand refrigerator and went to pick it up was stabbed; in the US alone, Marketplace is said to be the basis of thirteen murders and several armed robberies. But there are also other nuisances. A billiard table salesman saw his account hacked and then misused for fraudulent advertisements. Facebook does not help him get his account back, but the man has been receiving threats from scammed customers in the meantime.

We must, however, nuance that these problems are not unique to Marketplace. Propublica itself notes that Craigslist, eBay and Amazon are also dealing with scammers and whether the problem is worse with one platform than the other is not clear.

It is clear that Facebook is doing far too little against the problems, and if it does anything, user privacy comes second.

For example, Facebook hired 400 external employees through consultancy Accenture to investigate fraudulent deals on Marketplace. “Until recently, Facebook Marketplace allowed these poorly paid third-party employees to control the site by giving them largely unrestricted access to the Messenger inbox.” Writes ProPublica.

That, of course, led to problems. For example, the employees started spying on their partner or others; simultaneously, access to Messenger messages gave a little result in the fight against fraud. Employees who violated privacy would have been fired.

But also here comes up how Facebook has multiple classes of users. Nothing happened to normal users. Instead, the perpetrator received a warning from so-called VIP members. Only when the inboxes of Facebook employees were viewed did the employee receive a notification.

Facebook confirms to ProPublica that the remote contributors had access to users’ private messages but says that’s now limited to chat conversations via Marketplace.

In the meantime, more training on privacy would have been introduced, but that does not make Facebook Marketplace a safe or reliable environment. For example, ProPublica found out that four people accused of murder via Marketplace still have an active account on the sales platform. Two of them even have advertisements running.

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