API amends for Facebook & Instagram amid data scandal

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One of the major news stories of 2018 so far centres on social media giant Facebook and data analytics company Cambridge Analytica. In one of the biggest data scandals seen in recent years, the dispute is around the harvesting and use of personal data to influence major political events, such as Brexit and the US presidential election.

It all goes back to a 2014 quiz which encouraged users to find their personality type. While this may seem inconspicuous and common of the type of content that is regularly shared on the platform, the quiz harvested the data not just of the user but also their friends. While 270,000 people took the quiz, it’s estimated that it involved the data of some 87 million users — and it’s claimed that this data was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, where it was used to influence political campaign exposure.

While Facebook has already limited the amount of data developers can scrape through apps, additional plans have been unveiled for Facebook and Instagram to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future.

Now, Facebook apps that use the Pages, Events and Groups APIs must go through an app review process, while the available information has also been limited to better safeguard user data. It has also been announced that the old Instagram API platform will be made unavailable sooner than first estimated.

And it’s not just APIs that are under scrutiny, Facebook Login is also being restricted following the discovery of hidden data trackers that were collecting user data shared through the feature.

While these changes have undoubtedly been made to ensure the safety of user data and show that Facebook is actively searching for a solution to the problem, what impact will the new restrictions have on brands?

The changes to Facebook APIs could break key functionality within Facebook apps that brands have built themselves. What’s more, third-party tools that rely on Facebook’s APIs to allow brands to better manage their social accounts could also be affected.

And, of course, these initial changes are likely to be the first of many more to come, as the general public becomes more aware of sharing their personal data as GDPR’s rollout edges ever-nearer. Perhaps then the scale of these continued API changes will grow in the months to follow.

While Facebook has been in the firing line of late, other platforms are also altering their APIs as a preventative measure. For example, Twitter earlier announced changes to its API platform that will have a knock-on effect on third-parties who help brands manage multiple accounts and automate activities. As such, some of the changes have been delayed to give these third-parties the opportunity to adjust to the new API platform.

This grace period is being welcomed by these third-parties, as they strive to adapt to new ways of working without compromising on the service offered to their users.

While no one can be certain what the changes ahead will include, it’s clear that social media and sharing data is changing for the better — and for a brand to survive, it must adapt to the changes sooner rather than later.

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