- Facebook choked off developer access to Instagram’s platform late on Wednesday without any warning.
- That means people who make extra services for Instagram – like apps analysing your content or followers – woke up to a bunch of error messages on Thursday.
- Instagram had warned it would “deprecate” its API at the end of July but decided to bring that forward as Facebook tries to reassure users it respects their privacy.
- British designer and developer Stef Lewandowski was one of those developers and said he’s spending Thursday coming up with workarounds.
- The sudden changes will probably confuse users who wonder why apps they downloaded have suddenly stopped working.
When Stef Lewandowski woke up Thursday morning, his inbox was full of error messages.
Lewandowski and other developers only found out about the changes to Instagram when their apps began sending error messages around 8pm on Wednesday night, with Facebook only explaining the changes in a curt email this morning.
It’s intended to reassure consumers that Facebook isn’t letting unscrupulous apps either on Instagram or Facebook scrape your personal data, as the company continues to deal with the Cambridge Analytica fallout.
But it also means many apps reliant on Instagram’s backend no longer work, such as Lewandowski’s.
“What I’m surprised about is how rapid this change is,” he told Business Insider. “I guess that’s sending a strong message to Instagram users that Facebook is taking [privacy] seriously. I would have preferred a bit more time to deal with the knock-on effects of it. I’m a bit fed up today because my inbox is full of error messages.”
The changes will impact a multitude of apps that provide add-on services to Instagram: think about the sheer plethora of apps that let you track your metrics or edit your photos specifically for Instagram.
Instagram had warned developers it would wind down its API at the end of July – but it decided last night to implement the changes immediately. Facebook last night revealed that almost all of its 2 billion users might have had their profile data scraped – choking off all third-party developers whose apps plug into Instagram is a drastic move, but one that does put a stop to that.
This developer made fun, free tools popular with creators on Instagram
In Lewandowski’s case, he makes free, creative apps for Instagram as a kind of marketing tool for a paid-for creative community,Makelight, which he runs with his wife. The idea is that people stumble across the free apps, find them useful, then decided to join and pay up. Most of Makelight’s creator members are women, and Instagram is an important driver for the business.
“If you can imagine someone who’s running a yarn business, they would want to know the kinds of yarn colours that people in their audience are finding useful, or the most appealing,” Lewandowski explained. “Lots of these folk hang out on Instagram, and that’s become a prominent community. Instagram is part of the reason we have this business, [my wife] Emily became very prominent on there. What we decided to do was that I would apply some time in the evenings and weekends making instagram tools, useful things that we thought were missing that could be useful for those people.”
One of those tools was Makelight Insights, which showed creative types which colour palettes on their photos got the most engagement. A similar tool was Year of Colour, to show what colours Instagrammers used in their pictures. That was released last Christmas and was used around 100,000 times in a few days.
The apps relied on accessing certain information about users through the Instagram API, the software infrastructure that allows outside apps to plug into Instagram’s data and access information such as their name and the pictures they posted. Lewandowski said the data was only ever used to analyse colours in people’s pictures, and never for anything else.
Now he’ll have to come up with a workaround. “Today a bunch of the endpoints we rely on to run those services are now immediately unavailable and won’t be coming back,” he explained.
Luckily, these apps don’t directly generate revenue for Makelight, so this is a headache rather than a financial catastrophe.
Twitter annoyed developers in 2010 when it pulled similar stunts
Lewandowski said what is particularly disappointing is that Instagram – which initially told developers it would make these changes in July – implemented them immediately without warning. And that’s likely to leave users confused too.
“There now might be people who think their account has been hacked,” Lewandowski noted. “There will be an escalation in customer support. From that point of view, it’s helpful to know when things are going to kick in.”
Lewandowski referenced the time that Twitter similarly infuriated developers in 2010 by making massive changes to its API. “We felt a bit burned,” he said. But he thinks Facebook staffers do actually care about developers, despite the optics of the situation. The company has built open-source tools such as React and, Lewandowski said, “there are so many good people who work at Facebook.”
He’s sympathetic to Facebook’s dilemma, with the company rapidly having to keep up with a new pro-privacy zeitgeist. It was only a short time ago, he said, that people were pushing the idea of open data, and making data available for creative purposes.
“There was a time when it was great to have data available, there was creativity being supported by these platforms. But actually what the end user wants to know is that this information isn’t leaking, and isn’t being used for purposes they didn’t intend,” he said. “It’s symptomatic of a change in stance.
“We as the developers have to work with the expectations of users, and if the zeitgeist has shifted to privacy and transparency, that’s how we have to conduct ourselves.”
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