Plus: Tech News’ Biggest Tipster
Earlier this month screenshots leaked online of Facebook's much-anticipated dating application, and the tech media erupted. Engadget, TechCrunch, Verge, Fortune, Mashable and more all hopped on the photos to release their version of the story.
Perhaps, more intriguing than the photos themselves (though they did contain some pretty hilarious verbiage about not dating co-workers) was the person responsible for the leak: a fourth-year computer science student from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth named Jane Manchun Wong.
This wasn't Ms. Wong's first significant feature revealing. Since last year, when she realized she could reverse engineer popular apps like Facebook and Instagram to find soon-to-be-released features, Ms. Wong has been regularly posting her findings to her Twitter account. Facebook's new singing talent show, Instagram's updated two-factor authentication and details about both companies "Time Well Spent" additions are just a few of the features that have been uncovered by Ms. Wong before their formal announcements or releases. By doing so, she's made a significant impact in changing the way tech news functions today, especially amongst social media companies.
"App researchers like Jane may force tech companies to announce new features as soon as they start testing them instead of when they're ready to launch," TechCrunch's Editor-At-Large, Josh Constine, told Inside. "Tipsters in the past typically had to have inside knowledge of companies -- they either were or knew employees, partners, or investors. By digging into apps, researchers can find irrefutable evidence of new experiments from outside the company."
Ms. Wong told us that companies like Facebook and Instagram have never formally reached out to her to complain about the work she's doing, though she does notice when companies patch up the vulnerabilities that led to her findings. "Twitter responds very quickly,” she says. “Instagram reacts, like, a month later.”
Tech publications have offered her full-time jobs, Ms.Wong says, so they can break the news exclusively, instead of continually having to watch her Twitter feed for her next big find. But Ms. Wong has never thought of her feature finding as real work. It’s fun for her and currently, her favorite hobby. "It feels like going on an adventure, like treasure hunting," Ms. Wong tells us. "To me, my reward is to be able to see what’s new, what’s coming next."
After graduation, Ms. Wong’s goal is to land a job with one of the companies she’s reverse engineering today. Facebook would be her dream.
And if that happens, tech news will be forced to find its next, young tipster.