April 6, 2018

Facebook and Instagram make big changes to APIs after Cambridge Analytica

Facebook and Instagram make big changes to APIs after Cambridge Analytica

Facebook continues to roll out changes in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica user data scandal. In the latest response to the ongoing drama, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer announced restricted access to the Facebook API. Part of the Instagram API has also been shut down ahead of schedule. 

Facebook's API changes

First a simple (but not comprehensive) definition of what an API is. Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, allow developers to build products by accessing the data of an application or service. They are at the core of all apps that are based on or interact with social media platforms. Basically, API changes are a huge deal.

In the announcement of the API changes, Schroepfer wrote:

Two weeks ago we promised to take a hard look at the information apps can use when you connect them to Facebook as well as other data practices. Today, we want to update you on the changes we’re making to better protect your Facebook information.

The API changes reflect Facebook's new tougher approach to handling user data in the aftermath of the scandal. Here are the changes that have been made regarding the Facebook platform:

  • Third-party apps no longer have access to event guest lists and event discussion posts
  • Only Facebook-approved apps that have agreed to strict requirements will have access to the Events API
  • All apps using the Groups API need approval from Facebook and an admin
  • Apps can no longer access the members lists of groups
  • Personal information (including names and photos) are removed from posts and comments accessible to apps through the API
  • All future access to the API for Facebook pages must be approved by Facebook
Facebook's message to users affected by the Cambridge Analytica leak

Apps no longer have access to information regarding religious or political views, relationship status, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading and music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity.

Starting immediately, the website is tightening the approval process for apps that request access details such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups. Part of the approval process means apps must agree to strict requirements before they can access user data.

Instagram's API changes

Facebook has also terminated part of the Instagram API which was originally scheduled to end July 31st of this year. Apps using the Instagram API can no longer:

  • Read the lists of followers and those followed by users
  • Follow and unfollow accounts on behalf of an Instagram user
  • Post or delete comments publicly on behalf of a user

Instagram had already announced these changes as a part of their two-year plan to remove the older Instagram API platform. Developers for apps connected to Instagram are in the process of switching over to the new Instagram Graph API.

What does this mean for Instagram and Facebook users?

Facebook is rushing to contain the damage done by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. User trust in the platform has been hurt by the events of the last two weeks since the story was first reported. The scandal even gave birth to the hashtag #DeleteFacebook and created many articles on how to delete the app. Facebook has previously announced changes to respond to the backlash of Cambridge Analytica. However, with these latest moves Facebook is trying very hard to show it takes protecting user data seriously.

The changes are good news for Facebook users but are turning out to be a pain for third-party app developers. Because these changes are already in effect, apps using the Facebook API and Instagram API are scrambling to update their apps. Users of the popular dating app Tinder are already seeing the consequences. Many Tinder profiles have been inaccessible because the app uses the Facebook API to gather information for profiles.

Click to read more on the changes to Instagram and Facebook.