How Facebook will prevent future Cambridge Analytica scandals: Rein in third-party apps

Facebook says it will reveal whose data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

In light of revelations that data from 87 million Facebook users was improperly harvested for use in targeting American voters, Facebook could have simply pledged to turn off the spigot to third-party developers. Instead, the company is fixing the plumbing. The company outlined nine initiatives to change how Facebook manages data given to third-party apps.

There's one potential change users will actually see: Beginning April 9, Facebook will show a link at the top of the News Feed where users will be able to see what apps are using what data—and turn them off if they want. 

"As part of this process we will also tell people if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica," Facebook added. 

The changes, outlined in a Facebook blog post, address the use of APIs by third-party developers. Here's a short list:

1. Facebook will restrict apps using its Events API from accessing the guest list of others attending events. Only apps that Facebook approves, with "strict requirements," will be able to use the Events API.

2. All third-party apps using the Groups API will now need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group. Apps will no longer be able to access the member list of a group. Facebook will also remove personal information, such as names and profile photos, attached to posts or comments that approved apps can access.

3. Apps that could read comments on posts using the Pages API will need to be approved by Facebook.

4. Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups, and there will be "strict requirements" to access this data. Apps will no longer be able to ask for personal information such as religious or political views, relationship status and details, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading activity, music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity.

5. The Instagram API will be deprecated, effective today. (Facebook owns Instagram.)

6. People have been able to enter another person's phone number or email address to help find them. But because this can be maliciously used, Facebook has removed this capability, it said.

7. Facebook will delete call and text histories for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. It won't store the time of calls.

8. Facebook will shut down Partner Categories, which enabled third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook.

9. Finally, Facebook will show the apps that have connected to Facebook, and what data they've shared. 

Facebook elaborated on how it will give users more control over apps. "Starting on Monday, April 9, we’ll show people a link at the top of their News Feed so they can see what apps they use—and the information they have shared with those apps," Facebook wrote. "People will also be able to remove apps that they no longer want. As part of this process we will also tell people if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica."

Facebook is scheduled to host a conference call at 1:00 p.m. PDT, where Facebook says that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will provide more information. "Overall, we believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences," Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technology officer, concluded. 

What actions you should take: If you've resigned yourself to using Facebook, at least it'll be easier for you to access granular controls about what apps are using your data. Check out our guides to how to download your Facebook data. And if you're really fed up, here's how to delete, disable, or limit your Facebook account. Remember, it isn't enough just to stop using the app if your data is already being used.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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