Facebook said Friday that it’s suspending “tens of thousands” of apps from its platform for data usage violations.
The suspended apps are associated with around 400 developers.
The purge is part of Facebook’s continuing investigation into how third-party app developers use Facebook data, sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018.
So far, the investigation has examined millions of apps, Ime Archibong, Facebook’s VP of product partnerships, wrote in a blog post.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Cambridge Analytica debacle is that Facebook had very little insight and control over the data flowing in and out of its platform. Developers agreed to terms of service, but Facebook rarely checked to see if developers actually complied with them.
These days, Facebook has to be much less laissez faire. Its recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission requires greater oversight of third-party app developers, who now must certify compliance with Facebook’s policies on an annual basis.
“Any developer that doesn’t go along with these requirements will be held accountable,” Archibong wrote.
At the start of the investigation, Facebook decided which apps to review based on how many users they had and the amount of data they could access.
Now, Archibong wrote, Facebook is also identifying apps based on signals associated with their potential to abuse Facebook policies. Red flags trigger a more in-depth examination, which includes a background check on the developer and a technical analysis of the app’s activity on Facebook.
Some apps suspended in this round were still in the testing phase, while others were proactively suspended because developers didn’t respond to Facebook’s requests for information. Suspension “is not necessarily an indication that these apps were posing a threat to people,” Archibong wrote.
Other apps, however, were outright banned for data-related sins, including inappropriately sharing data obtained from Facebook, making that data publicly available without protecting users’ identities or some other violation of Facebook policy.
One app that got the chop for good was myPersonality, the app developed by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, which gathered information from tens of millions of Facebook users in 2014, when Facebook’s API still allowed developers to collect friend data by default. Kogan later sold that info to Cambridge Analytica, and the rest is history.
Beyond the ongoing investigation, Facebook has also made defensive moves over the last year and a half, including removing several of its developer APIs and expanding the teams focused on investigating and enforcing against bad actors.