Facebook is breaking some apps, but it's a good thing for privacy

Slack for iOS Upload 3Matt WeinbergerFacebook’s Simon Cross explains Facebook Login changes.

If you use Facebook to sign in to your favourite apps, buckle up: Facebook is throwing the switch this Thursday on a big change that gives users more power over the information they share with outside apps, but that has the potential to break how they work.

Last April, at Facebook’s F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg and company announced a new Facebook Login screen that would let users choose what information they shared when they signed into an app. It was part of Zuckerberg’s “People First” message.

Any app that uses Facebook Login built since then has used this new version, with all of those enhanced controls.

Before Zuckerberg announced the change, Facebook app permissions were an all-or-nothing deal: If you didn’t like what permissions an app was asking for, you had to bail on using Facebook with the app entirely.

“Apps were asking for permission, and people didn’t understand why,” says Facebook Product Manager of Platform Product Simon Cross.

The change gives users fine-grain control over what permissions they need and don’t need. So if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your email, phone number, or photos with an app, you can opt out. Cross says that the new Facebook Login has been a success, with usage growing 11 per cent in the last year.

On Thursday, Facebook is making the change official for old apps, too, meaning that every app will ask users to choose what information they share when they sign in.

If you want to go back and take away permissions, you can go into your Facebook app settings and choose what information you want to share — even if you’ve already signed in once. Just remember that if you shared Facebook data with an outside app, they won’t automatically delete it even if you revoke the permission — it just stops more data from coming in.

There’s some good news and bad news in this.

The good news: Facebook says that in this first year, the new login screen has reduced the overall number of permissions asked for by 50%, meaning that these apps are getting more sensitive about asking for personal information now that users have a little more control.

Better yet, Facebook is also taking away the ability for developers to ask for completely wild, unnecessary permissions. Facebook’s App Review team combs through apps — 40,000 to date — looking for apps that are way too greedy about user permission.

So for example, it used to be that you would sign into an app with Facebook and blindly approve whatever permissions it needed. Which would result in abuses like apps that could read your friends’ Facebook profiles, whether or not they were using that app at all. That permission is no longer available to developers at all,

The bad news: If you take away an information permission that an app is expecting, one of two things will happen. Either it will pester you for the missing information, explaining what features you’re missing out on if you don’t share your photo library.

Or, depending on how the app was programmed, it will just stop working entirely.

Cross insists that that’s going to be the exception, a lot of apps have already updated to account for the change, including 5,000 of the “top apps” like Netflix and Pinterest. And the new Facebook Login is supposed to be as stupid simple for developers to work with as possible, Cross says.

“In the majority of cases, everything worked perfectly,” Cross says.

Still, there are always outliers, and get ready for some breakage.

The bottom line is that this change is good for users, Cross says, and that it’s going to make people feel a lot better about using Facebook to log in to apps, which in turn is good for developers, who get easier access to Facebook’s massive audience as they look to grow their products.

“If people feel comfortable logging in with Facebook, they will log in with Facebook more, and that is better for developers,” Cross says.

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