Facebook Messenger is one of the most popular messaging apps out there, but the service’s parent, Meta, doesn’t have the cleanest track record for upholding user interests. The social media giant is famously associated with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and has been the target of several security breaches in the last few years. Worryingly, user interests seem to remain a secondary concern for Meta — now, a former data scientist for the company claims Messenger can knowingly deplete your smartphone’s battery in the name of feature testing, potentially putting you in a dangerous position.
33-year-old data scientist George Hayward has moved the Manhattan Federal Court against his former employer for firing him in November, ending his three-year stint with Meta (via Android Authority). Hayward’s suit alleges the company relieved him of duty after he refused to partake in negative testing — an industry term used to describe the practice of intentionally feeding bad data to an app to make sure it will function when people use it improperly.
Hayward’s objection to negative testing wasn’t with the practice itself, but rather with the way Meta went about it. When the company would remotely trigger negative testing on a Messenger user’s device, it would have adverse impacts on the battery life of that phone. Most people pay close attention to their phone’s battery level throughout the day, but an unprecedented drain could, hypothetically, put them in a position where they’re unable to reach emergency services or a family member.
Meta whistleblower George Hayward on the steps of the Manhattan Federal Courthouse
Speaking to the New York Post, Hayward explained that the real danger is the lack of user awareness about Meta’s negative testing methods. But that’s not all — Meta allegedly supplies employees with handbooks on how to run thoughtful negative tests which cite examples of real-world experiments. This seems to indicate that Meta regularly performs these tests and potentially dedicates larger teams to such tasks. Unfortunately, Hayward adds that broaching the legality of the methods with superiors didn’t go down well — he implied that refusal to perform the tests got him fired.
Meta hasn’t commented on Hayward’s allegations, but the lawsuit has since been withdrawn. It may continue if the mandated arbitration attempts between the two parties are unsuccessful.
In the meantime, if you’re concerned about Messenger’s negative testing, you can head to its App Info page on your Android phone, select “Battery,” then choose “Restricted” to prevent the app from running in the background — just know that this may result in delayed message notifications. A better option might be to review your phone’s privacy settings and look for other ways you can save battery life.