When Mark Zuckergerg unveiled a new “privacy-focused vision” for Facebook in March 2019, he cited the company’s global messaging service, WhatsApp, as a model. WhatsApp messages are so secure, he said, that nobody else — not even the company — can read a word.
Those assurances are not true. WhatsApp has more than 1,000 contract workers filling floors of office buildings in Austin, Texas, Dublin and Singapore, where they examine millions of pieces of users’ content. Seated at computers in pods organized by work assignments, these hourly workers use special Facebook software to sift through streams of private messages, images and videos that have been reported by WhatsApp users as improper and then screened by the company’s artificial intelligence systems.
Facebook Inc. has also downplayed how much data it collects from WhatsApp users, what it does with it and how much it shares with law enforcement authorities. WhatsApp user data, ProPublica has learned, helped prosecutors build a high-profile case against a Treasury Department employee who leaked confidential documents to BuzzFeed News that exposed how dirty money flows through U.S. banks.