Aran Khanna’s phone rang at 3 p.m. on May 29. That was a Friday, and on Monday he was scheduled to begin his dream internship at Facebook. The Bellevue, Wash.-native-turned-Harvard-student had already signed a lease and moved across the country to Mountain View, Calif.
But when he answered that call, he was told it was all for nothing. His internship offer had been rescinded.
This came after Khanna publicized a flaw in Facebook Messenger that allowed him to exploit the app’s location information it stored and map his friends’ movements. Khanna was even able to use it to track people he didn’t know, pinpointing things like their class schedules and home addresses.
Khanna said he built the app — named Marauders Map as a nod to Harry Potter fans everywhere — to begin a conversation about privacy.
“I decided to write this extension, because we are constantly being told how we are losing privacy with the increasing digitization of our lives, however the consequences never seem tangible,” he wrote in a post on Medium. “With this code you can see for yourself the potentially invasive usage of the information you share, and decide for yourself if this is something you should worry about.”
The app stirred up a lot of attention and Facebook eventually asked him to take it down — which he did.
Khanna, a graduate of Seattle’s Lakeside School, said he thought that was the end of it, until he got that phone call just three days before he was supposed to start his new summer job. Facebook has said all along it didn’t withdraw the internship because he exposed a flaw in its system, but rather because he misused user data, according to Huffington Post.
“I was initially a little disappointed, but a lot of value that came out of it was for me to realize Facebook doesn’t have the hacker culture I thought it did,” Khanna told GeekWire.
He said internships are like dating, and he was lucky enough to learn that relationship wasn’t going to work before it even got started.
Instead, Khanna stayed in Mountain View and took an internship with a machine learning startup called Marianas Labs — which is run out of Carnegie Mellon University.
He said his new job is completely different from going to work for a tech giant. He’s told everyday, “If you see something that can be impactful, build it” and Khanna said that’s the kind of culture he was looking for.
“I’m happy with the way things turned out,” he said. “I really couldn’t imagine learning more and spending time with more smart people anywhere else.”