Meet the Undergrad Student Who Uncovers Hidden Data Collection Programs that Tech Giants Want to Keep Secret

Jane Manchun Wong is an introvert who fades into a crowd. But in the geeky world of app reverse-engineering (yes, there’s such a thing), the 23-year-old Hong Kong-born Ivy Leaguer is a rock star.

The computer science major at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has made a name for herself in tech circles by uncovering hidden app features that the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat want to keep under wraps.

Now on a gap year back home, we met at the Strokes, an indoor mini-golf club in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district. I had hoped that doing an activity together would help break the ice, and because watching her spend hours analysing source code did not seem particularly exciting. Besides, I was good at mini-golf.

We teed off at the 11th hole of the 18-hole course, located in a section that for reasons unknown is designed to look like a swimming pool. She manages to sink the ball on her sixth attempt and lets out a victorious “Yes!”

“This is fun, figuring out where I should aim when I hit the ball,” she said. “It’s similar to when I’m trying to pick up my workflow when a new app update is released, you have to try and get the hang of it but once you do, it’s really fun.”

Wong was the first to discover that Facebook Messenger was testing an “unsend message” option and that Instagram was working on allowing users to geofence their posts and stories, limiting content visibility to specific countries and regions.

Many tech publications follow her Twitter posts and some have offered to pay her if she would reverse-engineer apps for them exclusively. However, Wong always rejects such offers.

“I believe information like this should be free and accessible to all, so I’d rather just post about it on Twitter,” she said. “I’m not doing it for the money.”

What she is trying to do is peel back the layers of opacity surrounding what technology companies do with our data.

Once, she discovered that users who granted permissions for Facebook’s Android to access location and phone data were also allowing the app to scan and send data like nearby cell tower information and available Wi-fi networks in the vicinity of its servers.

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SOURCE: Zen Soo 
South China Morning Post