Facebook tracks people who are potential threats to its employees

The social network sometimes monitors the location of users and ex-employees if the threat appears credible.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
3 min read

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg

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Facebook keeps a list of people, including users and ex-employees, who have made threats against the social media company and its employees. 

The company uses data from those people's Facebook accounts and sometimes tracks their location through the app if threats appear credible, CNBC reported earlier on Thursday. Some former employees who spoke to CNBC questioned the company's ethics, but others said the tech giant is keeping its employees safe.

A Facebook spokesman confirmed the company keeps a list of people who might pose a threat, but said the practice is "standard in terms of corporate security." He declined to say how many people are on this list, but CNBC reported there are hundreds. 

Revelations about how Facebook tracks the location of security threats comes as the world's largest social network faces criticism that it isn't doing enough to protect the privacy of its 2.3 billion users. At the same time, Facebook and other tech giants have also had to deal with real threats against their employees.

"We have strict processes designed to protect people's privacy and adhere to all data privacy laws and Facebook's terms of service," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "In cases where there is a credible threat of physical violence against a Facebook employee, we use a combination of publicly available data and industry-standard practices to assess their physical proximity to an at-risk employee or Facebook location."

Facebook's data policy states the company collects information from the device settings a user turns on, which includes GPS location. The policy also mentions that Facebook uses the data it gathers about its users to promote safety and security on and off the social network.

In December, police evacuated buildings at Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters following an anonymous bomb threat. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office bomb squad swept the buildings but didn't find suspicious packages or devices. In April, a suspected female shooter opened fire on employees at YouTube's San Bruno headquarters, wounding three workers before taking her own life, according to police.

On Thursday, a Netflix office in Los Angeles was locked down after reports of an armed person at the site. The man was detained and Netflix said there was no immediate threat or danger posed to its employees.

Facebook created a "be on lookout" list in 2008 and it's updated every week, according to former employees who spoke to CNBC.

When a person is added to the list, security professionals receive a report that includes their name, photo, location and why they were added, according to the news outlet. In 2018, Facebook tracked the location of an user who made a public threat against one of Facebook's Europe office. 

One Facebook user discovered he was on the list after he tried to enter Facebook's campus for lunch with a friend who worked at the company. Security guards showed up when he tried to register as a guest, and he reportedly was on the list because of messages he sent to Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. The user was removed from the list after his friend complained to the company. 

Sometimes, Facebook will also add former employees to the list if they've made threats against the company, CNBC reported. 

Other tech companies also reportedly keep lists. Facebook uses the social network to find threats against its employees, according to CNBC. 

Facebook can track people's location through its own service. That has included Facebook users and even its own interns if they go missing. 

A former employee told CNBC that the social network only tracks a person's location when a threat appears credible. 

First published Feb. 14, 12:50 p.m. PT. 
Update, 1:35 p.m. PT: Includes more background. Update, 1:49 p.m. PT: Includes statement from Facebook. Update, 4:40 p.m. PT: Includes additional comment from Facebook and information about its data policy. Update, 5:27 p.m. PT: Adds news of Netflix lockdown.

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