More than two dozen Meta Platforms employees and contractors were fired or disciplined over the past year after they were accused of improperly taking over users Facebook and Instagram accounts, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
In some cases, the workers were allegedly bribed, The Journal said, citing people familiar with the situation and internal documents.
Among the fired were contractors who worked as security guards stationed at parent Meta Platforms’ facilities and were given access to the internal system employees deployed to help users who had trouble with their accounts, the Journal reported.
The mechanism, known internally as “OOps,” an acronym for Online Operations, has long existed, but it is supposed to be used in limited circumstances when employees are working with users they know who have forgotten their passwords or emails or had their accounts taken over by hackers, the story said. In 2020, the channel serviced about 50,270 tasks, up from 22,000 three years earlier, said the Journal, citing an internal document it reviewed.
Some workers took thousands of dollars in bribes from outside hackers to access user accounts, the Journal reported, citing sources and documents used in a lengthy investigation of the issue. One woman fired in February allegedly reset multiple Facebook accounts on behalf of hackers in exchange for thousands of dollars in Bitcoin, the story said. The woman has denied wrongdoing.
“Individuals selling fraudulent services are always targeting online platforms, including ours, and adapting their tactics in response to the detection methods that are commonly used across the industry,” Meta spokesman Andy Stone told the Journal. He said the company “will keep taking appropriate action against those involved in these kinds of schemes.”
A spokeswoman for Meta’s security contractor, Allied Universal, told the paper it “takes seriously all reports of violations of our standards of conduct.” It has ordered staffers not to use the system, the story said.
The problem stemmed from the company’s limited customer service offerings, the story said. With few ways to contact the company when locked out of an account, individuals and businesses have turned to “a cottage industry of intermediaries” who charge money to help them regain access. These third parties claim to have access to Meta employees who can help them reset the accounts.
“You really have to have someone on the inside who will actually do it,” Nick McCandless of McCandless Group, a content platform operator who has helped clients reset their accounts via contacts at Meta.
Buying or selling accounts or paying for an account recovery service is a violation of the social network’s terms of service, Stone told the Journal.
Meta is also investigating some former employees for remaining in contact with other workers, allegedly to hijack user accounts, the story said.
One account that won’t be hacked is that of former President Donald Trump.
Trump was kicked off Facebook following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the suspended for two years after a review the following June.