Sep 20, 2019

Facebook suspends "tens of thousands" of apps amid developer probe

Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook announced Friday that it suspended "tens of thousands" of apps following a lengthy investigation into the third-party developers that share data with the tech giant.

Why it matters: The company is facing immense regulatory pressure over its privacy practices and data dominance. In particular, the Massachusetts attorney general's office has reportedly been working to unseal documents related to the app investigation.

Be smart: According to The New York Times, Facebook last month petitioned a judge in Boston to seal the records, but it's likely they will be unsealed by a state court soon.

  • "It seems Facebook only cares about privacy when it’s their own," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy tweeted in response to the news.

Details: Facebook says the investigation targeted apps that had access to large amounts of user data before the company changed its policies to limit such access in 2014.

  • The company says the probe, which involved hundreds of people, from lawyers to data scientists, is helping to better identify patterns of data abuse by developers to root out bad developers from being able to access more data on its platform.
  • Facebook also said in a few cases it banned apps completely. Those apps were banned for a variety of reasons, like inappropriately sharing data obtained from Facebook or making data publicly available without protecting people’s identity.
  • The company explains it has also taken legal action when necessary, like filing suits against companies that failed to cooperate with its investigation.

By the numbers: Facebook says that while "thousands of apps" have been suspended, most are associated with around 400 developers. It says not all apps were live, and some were just being tested, but because many app developers didn't respond to Facebook's request for comment about them, it suspended their apps.

The big picture: The investigation, which launched in March 2018, was triggered by the now infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, where a third-party developer used data from Facebook users in a way that wasn't clear.

  • The Cambridge Analytica case shed light on a wider problem within the tech industry of companies placing too must trust in third-party developers to do the right thing with user data they've been given access to.

What's next: Facebook says it's working with policymakers on policing bad app developers and fraudulent data collection.

  • It notes that its new agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which came as part of a historic $5 billion settlement over privacy violations earlier this year, requires new oversight of app developers.
  • Facebook says it developed new rules to more strictly control a developer’s access to user data, including suspension or revoking of a developer’s access to any API that it has not used in the past 90 days.

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