Tech

Revealing the secrets of Silicon Valley, tweet after tweet

This is not Wong’s work. In fact, she calls code reverse engineering her hobby. “I just love digging into apps and seeing how they work,” she says from her home in Hong Kong, where she lives with her family. She is not a hacker; all the data from which it draws information is publicly available. It looks more like a computer version Gossip.

Wong’s Twitter feed is an almost daily sensationalist, but she insists that nothing she posts is a leak. “Leaks mean they are based on information coming from employees, that employees are the source,” she says. “But I use public data and code. These are not leaks.”

Wong has earned a reputation for being always right. Journalists cite her work in articles, citing her sensationalism. “Initially, people asked: “Who is she? Where did she get this information?” she says. “But over time, I gained confidence. You must prove that your information is valid.”

It got to the point where companies create Easter eggs for her. Newton says many have given up trying to hide their code and are just playing along. “There have even been cases where developers put a “Hey Jane” style message into their code,” he says. They know she will come.

Wong’s work brings attention to the often overlooked parts of R&D companies, which can benefit PR. Meta’s coders love her so much that they’ve created an internal Jane Manchun Wong fan club, which includes Andrew Bosworth, the company’s CTO. “We appreciate her input and feedback to help improve our products,” says a Meta spokesperson.

But even if they know that she will come, this does not mean that they are always glad to see her. Spectacle and surprise are key elements in maintaining the aura surrounding a technology launch or feature reveal, and Wong revealed these secrets by breaking down the carefully erected walls of technology companies. With one tweet, she effectively destroys any work or narrative they have about the feature.

Which is why, in fact, Wong says he posts features on Twitter before they go public. For her, secrecy and the subsequent hype is problematic. Applications are used by people; Shouldn’t these people know what updates and products are being worked on behind the scenes?

It’s not hard to imagine that companies might be unhappy with a social media celebrity unceremoniously revealing their secrets on Twitter. And as a 20-year-old Asian who tweets a steady stream of high-profile statements about tech companies, Wong is a prime target for harassment and trolling that can break even the strongest people. “I want more people to realize that I am a person,” she says. “I am more than a machine.”

It’s a controversial dynamic, and one that deeply affected her. She has tweeted several times over the years about her depression and feeling like people hate her. She has been open about her mental health issues and says she continues to struggle with depression.

And while Wong describes what she does as a hobby, at times it was more of an obsession: she spent almost 18 hours a day combing code and checking what companies were messing with. She sacrificed her sleep and health, sometimes locking herself at home for days at a time when the harassment became too much. On several occasions, she went as far as threatening suicide after being mocked online. She left the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth a few months before graduation due to health issues, which she regrets.

Is it worth it? Wong thinks so, saying she has noticed that companies are more transparent about what they are working on these days. “And if they were before, I wouldn’t have to do this,” she says.

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In the course of the pandemic, Wong has adjusted and revised her schedule. She is still a night owl, but is starting to find her balance. She became interested in walking around the outskirts of the city and took refuge in a local cafe located in a nearby church.

The quarantine has also made it clear to her that she doesn’t want to do this full-time job. “I wanted to be a software engineer since I was six years old,” she says. “I want to create things.” But she is not ready to get a job in the field of technology, although she has received many offers. “I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of my curiosity about it,” she says. “When I satisfy this curiosity, I will stop. I’ll move on.”


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