Facebook parent Meta has fired or disciplined over two dozen employees and contractors over the last year who have been accused of improperly hijacking user accounts - in some cases for bribes, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter and documents seen by the outlet.
The suspects accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from outside hackers in some cases.
Some of those fired were contractors who worked as security guards stationed at Meta facilities and were given access to the Facebook parent’s internal mechanism for employees to help users having trouble with their accounts, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. -WSJ
The mechanism, known internally as "Oops," was created during the company's early years in order to help users who either forgot their passwords or emails, or had their accounts taken over by hackers.
"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," according to Meta spokesman Andy Stone, who added that the company would continue to take "appropriate action against those involved in these kinds of schemes."
Meta contractor Allied Universal said in a statement that it "takes seriously all reports of violations of our standards of conduct."
When users are locked out of their accounts, there are automated procedures to try and recover it - including trying to reach Meta by phone or email, which is typically an exercise in futility.
"Oops," which stands for Online Operations, is supposed to be limited to special circumstances, such as friends, family, business partners and public figures as a way to cut in line for assistance. In 2020, it serviced over 50,000 tasks - up from 22,000 just three years earlier. In order to file an Oops report, the employee or contractor lists an email address to be reset. They must answer a series of questions, including whether the request is being made for someone on CEO Mark Zuckerberg's team, a celebrity, Meta partner, or family member, the Journal reports.
Because so many people depend on social media for their businesses, or to manage critically important aspects of their lives, gaining illicit control of an account can be lucrative. Stolen Facebook and Instagram handles can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars on other online forums.
But in part because the Oops system is off limits to the vast majority of Facebook users, a cottage industry of intermediaries has developed who charge users money to regain control of their accounts. In interviews with the Journal, some of those third parties claim to have access to Meta employees to help reset accounts. -WSJ
"When you take someone’s Instagram account down that they’ve spent years building up, you’re taking away their whole means of generating an income," said Nick McCandless, whose company McCandless Group operates a platform for content creators and charges people to reset their accounts through an inside contact at Meta.
"You really have to have someone on the inside who will actually do it."