Facebook announced that it has suspended “tens of thousands” of apps on its platform for misusing and mishandling data, as part of an on-going investigation about improper data use on the part of third-party developers.
Cambridge Analytica Scandal
This move by Facebook comes in a year and a half since the Cambridge Analytica, data privacy scandal and Facebook’s failure to effectively protect billions of users’ info, first came to light.
Only until March 2018 that the complete scale of the Cambridge Analytica security incident was reported. The personal data of over 87 million Facebook users was obtained by the political data-analytics firm via an external app in 2015. The social network allegedly waited another two years to reveal that it had happened.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has also alleged that Facebook did not disclose the breach for over two years. Instead, the company relied on hypotheticals to tell investors that user’s data may be improperly accessed, used or disclosed.
There has been a progressive increase in the number of apps suspended by Facebook in an attempt to safeguard its user’s information. Initially, in May 2018, the company claimed to have suspended 200 apps; in August 2018, the number of suspended apps jumped to 400. Currently, roughly one year later, the tech giant has announced the suspension of “tens of thousands” after investigating its app developers since news of the Cambridge Analytica incident came out in March 2018. As per Facebook, all apps that had access to large amounts of information were investigated.
As per Rachel Sandler, [Source (1)]
“Facebook said the apps were suspended for a variety of reasons and doesn’t mean they were all posing a threat to users. Many were suspended because developers didn’t respond to Facebook’s request to hand over information on how they collect user data.”
The apps suspended originated from a small number of developers, just 400 or so. This in itself raises questions. If Facebook had just suspended 10,001 apps from 400 developers, which would imply that each developer, on average, had created 25 apps, which goes against Facebook’s rules.
The grounds of suspension of these apps were –
- Inappropriately sharing data obtained from the company and
- Making the data publicly available without protecting the identity of people or
- Something else that was an apparent violation of the company policies
Facebook said that some of the apps that were suspended were not live and were still in testing. The company also added that the review process is on-going and more suspensions may be announced in the future.
As per Facebook Newsroom, [Source (2)]
“Our App Developer Investigation is by no means finished. But there is meaningful progress to report so far. To date, this investigation has addressed millions of apps. Of those, tens of thousands have been suspended for a variety of reasons while we continue to investigate.”
Facebook has also perpetually removed access to its platform from some of the offending developers. However, Facebook has not specified the number of developers it has banned.
As per AFP, [Source (3)]
“”One app banned was called myPersonality, which shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place, and then refused our request to participate in an audit.” Archibong said.”
The company has also taken legal action against few app makers and continues to sue developers including software makers that were using Facebook-linked apps to infect users’ phones with malware.
Facebook’s treatment and the use of data have been under intense scrutiny. The most recent incident was when the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for its role in the incident, which was a clear violation of their past agreement that the company would not transfer user data to third parties without consent according to the regulator.
The penalty was the largest any tech company ever had to pay. Along with the settlement, Facebook also introduced a set of new requirements for third-party developers, including a mandatory annual compliance review. According to the new requirements, all the developers had to annually certify compliance with their policies, barring which they will be held accountable.
This news comes as the company is dealing with 11 on-going investigations from state attorneys general, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Justice Department, on probable antitrust and privacy violations.
Although the investigation deals with the amount data third-party developers can collect from Facebook and who they share that data with, it does not address how much data Facebook itself collects from third-party websites and its users.