Facebook is aggressively cutting down on the amount of personal data third-party developers can collect from users as part of its response to Cambridge Analytica, the third-party data firm that collected personal information from as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced sweeping changes to many of its APIs — software plugins that allow outside businesses and developers to collect data directly from Facebook.
The changes are broad, and you can read all of the specifics at Facebook’s blog, but the gist is that Facebook will limit the types of data available through each API so that outsiders can’t see as much about people on Facebook.
“We believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences,” Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer wrote in a blog post.
A few of the highlights:
- Facebook will now need to approve every app that uses its login feature to collect information beyond basic profile data, like a user’s name and email. It will also stop apps from asking about ideological information, like a user’s religious or political views.
- Facebook is expediting a plan to close its Instagram Platform API, which was originally planned to happen gradually over the next few years. Facebook says the “deprecation” of that API will take place “effective today.” Developers started noticing this earlier in the week, without a heads up from the company, but Facebook declined to comment on the changes until now.
- You can’t search for people on Facebook using their email or phone number anymore. Facebook says “malicious actors” were abusing that feature, so it’s disabling it.
- Facebook will start alerting users that their data may have been part of the Cambridge Analytica data set beginning Monday, April 9. The company will put a link at the top of every Facebook user’s News Feed to help them understand which third-party apps have their data. That alert will also include whether or not your data was part of the set obtained by Cambridge Analytica.
It will be interesting to see how these changes impact Facebook’s relationship with third-party developers just weeks before the company’s annual developer conference, F8. Many developers rely on Facebook APIs to sign up new users, or scale their own audience by asking people to share their Facebook friends list.
Almost all developers will find out about these changes today, and though the writing has been on the wall for weeks, it’s likely many will be caught off guard.
Wednesday’s update is just the latest in what has been an incredibly busy three-week stretch for Facebook. The company already rewrote its terms of service, is in the middle of a media blitz with CEO Mark Zuckerberg to answer press questions and is cutting out data partners the company no longer wants to associate with.
Zuckerberg will also testify next week before a House Congressional committee to answer questions about the company’s data privacy practices.