Facebook is limiting developers' access to user data, following Cambridge Analytica scandal

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  • Facebook on Wednesday announced a slew of changes that will restrict the amount and kinds of information developers can access about the social network’s users.
  • Developers will no longer be able to ask users to see their religious and political views, for example, and apps that want to Facebook Pages will need Facebook’s permission.
  • The changes come in the wake of the uproar over Cambridge Analytica data leak, which Facebook warned Wednesday affected far more users than previously estimated.

Still contending with the fallout from its leak of data to Trump-linked research firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook on Wednesday announced a series of changes to its service designed to limit the amount of data on its users that developers can access.

Particular kinds of information, such as users’ political and religious views, will be off-limits for new apps. Meanwhile, the company will require developers will have to get the company’s approval before offering certain kinds of apps, such as those that access Facebook Pages, the areas on the site devoted to organisations, companies, publications, and personalities.

“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,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in a blog post. He continued: “We believe these changes will better protect people’s information while still enabling developers to create useful experiences.”

As part of his post, Schroepfer also warned users that Facebook’s privacy problems were worse than was previously known publicly. “Most” Facebook users likely have had their public profile data skimmed from the site by “malicious actors” using a tool that allowed them to find people via just their phone numbers or email addresses, he said. He also announced that Facebook now believes the number of people affected by the Cambridge Analytica data leak was 87 million – about 74% more than previous estimates.

Among the features to which Facebook is restricting developers access are:

  • Events. Facebook will now bar apps from accessing lists of event attendees or seeing posts users make on event pages. The company said it will also only approve events-related apps that agree to “strict requirements,” although it didn’t specify what those are.
  • Groups. Apps designed to access group pages on Facebook will now need to be approved by both Facebook and each group’s administrator. Facebook will now bar such apps from accessing member lists of particular groups and will prevent them from seeing the names or profile photos of people who post or comment on group pages.
  • Pages. Facebook will now have to approve any app that wants to access Page data. “We want to make sure Page information is only available to apps providing useful services to our community,” Schroepfer said.
  • Login. Apps that use this service, which allows users to log in with their Facebook credentials, will have to be approved by Facebook if they seek to get access to users’ photos, posts, videos, groups they’re joined, events they’re attending, places they have checked-in, or items they have liked. Facebook is also barring apps from asking users for permission to view a slew of personal information, including their political and religious views, their relationship status, and their education and work histories.

Additionally, Facebook plans to launch a new feature that will allow users to easily find a list of apps they have installed and the information they are sharing with those apps. The feature will also alert users who may have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica data leak.

While the changes will affect future apps, they don’t appear to restrict apps users’ already have installed. So, if users have already installed an app and given it permission to see their religious views, the app presumably will continue to have access to that information. What’s more, the changes don’t appear to require developers of older apps to delete information Facebook now considers out-of-bounds.

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