Facebook can secretly drain its users’ cellphone batteries, a former employee contends in a lawsuit.
The practice, known as “negative testing,” allows tech companies to “surreptitiously” run down someone’s mobile juice in the name of testing features or issues such as how fast their app runs or how an image might load, according to data scientist George Hayward.
“I said to the manager, ‘This can harm somebody,’ and she said by harming a few we can help the greater masses,” said Hayward, 33, who claims in a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit that he was fired in November for refusing to participate in negative testing.
Hayward worked on Facebook’s Messenger app, which allows users to send written messages or make phone or video calls — and is a crucial communication tool in many countries, he said.
Messenger has 1.3 billion users worldwide, ranking it 4th among the most-used social media platform, according to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report.
“Any data scientist worth his or her salt will know, ‘Don’t hurt people,’” he told The Post.
Killing someone’s cellphone battery puts people at risk, especially “in circumstances where they need to communicate with others, including but not limited to police or other rescue workers,” according to the litigation filed against Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms.
“I refused to do this test,” he said, adding, “It turns out if you tell your boss, ‘No, that’s illegal,’ it doesn’t go over very well.”
Hayward was hired in October 2019 for a six-figure gig.
He said he doesn’t know how many people have been impacted by Facebook’s negative testing but believes the company has engaged in the practice because he was given an internal training document titled, “How to run thoughtful negative tests,” which included examples of such experiments being carried out.
“I have never seen a more horrible document in my career,” he said.
Most people likely have no idea Facebook or other social media companies are capable of draining down a cellphone battery intentionally, said Hayward’s lawyer, Dan Kaiser.
The lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages, has since been withdrawn because Hayward is required to go to arbitration, said the lawyer, who said Hayward stands by the allegations.
“It’s clearly illegal,” Kaiser said of the practice. “It’s enraging that my phone, that the battery can be manipulated by anyone.”
Meta did not respond to a message.