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Indian origin Harvard student lost Facebook internship for breaching privacy

Hina Fatima Khan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:43 IST

In a recent act of what is termed as 'violation' on Facebook, Aran Khanna, a Harvard University Student, was allegedly dismissed from his internship at the company for launching a browser application that exploited privacy norms on the company's mobile messenger.

Marauder's Map -- the app created by Harry Potter fan Khanna could easily track the exact locations of the people chatting over Facebook Messenger. According to the intern Khanna he thought he was doing a public service by creating an app to show the consequences of unintentionally sharing the data. Khanna launched the app from his dormitory room in the month of May and 85,000 people also downloaded it.

After a few days, Facebook asked Khanna to disable it. A week after that, a messenger app update was released by Facebook, addressing the flaw. Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld said the company had been working on a Messenger update months before it became aware of Khanna's app. "This isn't the sort of thing that can happen in a week," Steinfeld said, India Today reports.

Khanna received a call from a Facebook employee just two hours before he was supposed to start his internship at the social networking site telling him that the company was rescinding the offer because he had violated the Facebook user agreement when he scraped the site for data.

Dismissing all the reports of revoking the internship offer from Khanna, Facebook in a statement said, "We don't dismiss employees for exposing privacy flaws, but we do take it seriously when someone misuses user data and puts people at risk". "We began developing improvements to location sharing months ago, based on inputs from people who use Messenger. His (Khanna's) mapping tool scrapped Facebook data in a way that violated our terms, and those terms exist to protect people's privacy and safety," Facebook said.

Supreme Court senior lawyer justifying the social networking site's move said, "Any organization is well within its right to terminate the internship of any individual if an individual has done any contravention or violation of the existing policies of the organization."

Speaking on the similar lines, Cyber law expert and Chairman Lex Cyberia Karnika Seth, termed it as a serious privacy issue and said "Incidents like these strengthen privacy protection mechanisms on growing social media platforms."

However, according to Khanna, Facebook withdrew the summer internship offer three days after Marauder's Map was launched by him from his dorm room. Khanna penned his experience in a case study published for the Harvard Journal of Technology Science while he was interning at the Silicon Valley startup. He calls this a learning experience for him in life.

First published: 16 August 2015, 5:20 IST