Facebook Restricts Instagram API

Facebook updates it’s Instagram APIs ahead of schedule in an on-going bid to make it harder for third-party developers to access data.

The previous two weeks have been a turbulent period of change for Facebook when it was revealed last month that the Cambridge Analytica data scraping activities have potentially affected around 87 million of its users.

Among a growing inventory of policy changes, including simplifying the way in which users can see which apps have accessed their profile and a rewritten terms of service policy, Facebook has announced that it will be terminating a part of the Instagram API with immediate effect. This change was initially scheduled for July 2018 although, given recent events, Facebook has brought it forward possibly in an attempt to make amends before CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears before Congress this week.

Changes to Instagram APIs

In simple terms, the APIs in question are plugins, which allow third-party developers to obtain user data directly from Facebook (and consequently Instagram, which is owned by Facebook). The Instagram API platform features, which are being depreciated immediately, include those allowing third-party developers to access the following;

  • Follower lists– to be able to access a list of followers and followed-by users
  • Relationships – to alter the following status on behalf of another user
  • Commenting on public content – to post and delete comments on public posts on behalf of another user.

Changes to Facebook APIs

The decision to speed up the reduction of the Instagram API’s no doubt was a natural lead on from the list of Facebook API’s that have also been modified;

  • Events API – apps using the Events API will no longer be able to view guest lists or posts on the event wall of both public and private events.
  • Groups API – developers using the Groups API had previously been able to access the content of both closed and secret groups with the permission of a group admin or member. They will now require the approval of both Facebook and a group admin to do so and member details will no longer be visible to third-party apps.
  • Pages API – Apps using the Pages API will no longer be able to access page information (including posts or comments from any page plus lots of unnecessary data) without prior approval from Facebook.
  • Facebook Login – Facebook will now need to approve all apps that request to see information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups. Apps will no longer be able to request access to religious/political views, relationship status, education and work history and other behavioural activities. If a user has not used the app for three months, Facebook will end that app’s ability to access the data of that user.
  • Searching users by phone number or email – this feature has been disabled as a result of Facebook discovering that ‘malicious actors’ had been using this technique to scrape huge quantities of data from public profiles.
  • App controls – starting from today, Monday 9th April 2018, Facebook will display a link at the top of users’ News Feed which shows them which apps they use and the information that these apps are able to access. This will give users the option to remove apps they do not use.

Too little, too late – what does the future look like for Facebook?

March has been a long month for Facebook, with damning headlines coming out almost every day and it’s value plunging by tens of billions of dollars in days. With the GDPR coming into force in the UK in little over a month and data protection (and abuse) being the defining theme of 2018, it’s highly unlikely this is the last we’ll be hearing of the matter.

Though many of the API policy changes that Facebook have made might seem difficult to grasp by the regular member of the public, it does indicate that Facebook is willing to put the safety of their users ahead of third-party developers (albeit, only after they had been accused of misconduct) and make amends for what a lot of people consider to be a massive breach of trust. Perhaps it’s a way to protect themselves if any more revelations come to light in the future or maybe they are genuinely taking these offences and the safety of their users seriously. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that Facebook’s ubiquity will be diluted that much given that it is the world’s most used social media platform by a mile.

It may not ‘blow over’ as quickly as Facebook would like, and it may have lost a portion of its users off the back of this story but it’s equally unlikely that the platform will be abandoned overnight either.


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