Hacker Discovers New Features on Facebook, Instagram Before Some Employees Can

Jane Manchun Wong

A hacker in Hong Kong has won thousands of followers — including tech VIPs — for publishing new features in popular apps ahead of their official announcement.

Jane Manchun Wong, who does so out of “curiosity” and “personal amusement,” has even been called “a better source” on new projects than internal communications teams.

Jane Manchun Wong, 25, is a software engineer from Hong Kong who publishes new features of popular apps ahead of their official announcement. Image via Jane Manchun Wong

The 25-year-old software engineer began digging into application codes years ago in an attempt to understand updates commonly described as “bug fixes and improvements.” She first taught herself how to code from books and guides on the internet.

“I guess it’s just my curiosity that drives me,” Wong told Business Insider. “To me, this is a puzzle, and I have to solve it.”

Wong’s process is fairly straightforward: every time one of her apps gets an update, she locates the new code/s, reverse-engineers it/them and finds new features before their official announcement.

So far, she has dug and publicized unreleased features from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and Slack.

Wong’s constant discovery of new features — which come at three a day, according to her estimates — has made her a stable source of news for many users, including employees from the apps’ companies themselves.

“For real. Jane’s Twitter is a better source on projects going on across the company than internal comms,” wrote Colin Higgins, a data scientist at Instagram.

To date, Wong has amassed 64,300 followers on Twitter, where she primarily posts her updates. Among her VIP followers are Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s Instagram, and Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, head of Facebook’s hardware initiatives.

“I was just trying to get in on the good-feeling action. Like Adam, I was sure I was already following you but apparently it is just that everyone else already retweets you so much. I might as well go straight to the source,” Bosworth tweeted Wong back in October.

Just last week, Wong revealed that Instagram has been working to let influencers monetize their content by running short ads on their IGTV videos. A Facebook representative confirmed the news an hour later.

Wong also stumbled upon a major change on Instagram back in April: hiding counts of likes from users to help them shift focus on content. Mosseri confirmed her discovery 12 days later at Facebook’s F8 conference.

So far, the companies don’t mind Wong’s hobby. In some cases, she reports privacy and security issues through their bug bounty programs — initiatives that reward people for reporting exactly such matters.

Facebook, which started its bug bounty program in 2011, has rewarded more than $7.5 million to researchers in over 100 countries. “My main goal [when finding bugs] is to help prevent actual data breaches from happening,” Wong, who has been rewarded at least four times, told CNN last year.

Wong’s desk as of November 2019. Image via Jane Manchun Wong

Wong has reportedly been tapped by news outlets to work for them, but she reiterates that everything she does is purely out of personal amusement. However, she hopes that her discoveries would showcase her skills as a software engineer.

“Before a feature is launched, they might be able to see how a feature is perceived in the comments,” Wong told CNBC of how her work benefits companies. “Right now, I keep digging from the surface, but I just want to experience how it feels to actually work with them.”

Feature Images via Jane Manchun Wong (left, right)

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