Facebook Engineers: No Idea Where We Keep Your Personal Data

Two veteran Facebook engineers were grilled about the company’s sprawling data collection operations in March. Their response will come as little relief to those concerned with the company’s stewardship of billions of digitized lives.

Facebook engineers struggled to explain where personal data might be stored in 55 Facebook subsystems to a court-appointed subject-matter expert, and said it would take a significant team effort to even be able to answer that question.

Meta spokesperson Dina El-Kassaby told The Intercept that Meta worked to guard users’ data and made significant investments to meet its privacy commitments.

Facebook was ordered to turn over information it had collected about the suit’s plaintiffs, but only provided data that was publicly accessible through the company’s “Download Your Information” tool. Facebook contended that any data not included in this set was outside the scope of the lawsuit.

Facebook’s stonewalling has been revealing on its own, providing variations on the same theme: Facebook has amassed so much data on so many billions of people and organized it so confusingly that full transparency is impossible on a technical level.

Facebook engineers explained in a congressional hearing that the internal engineering dysfunction at Meta makes compliance with data privacy laws an impossibility. They said that Facebook never bothered to cultivate institutional knowledge of how each of these component systems works.

Facebook’s inability to comprehend its own functioning took the hearing up to the edge of the metaphysical. The court-appointed special master asked how one could find out which systems actually contain user data that was created through machine inference.