Facebook announced it has suspended “tens of thousands” of apps as part of an investigation into app developers launched in the aftermath of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In a Sept. 20 blog post, Facebook said the review of the apps involved hundreds of people, including attorneys, external investigators, data scientists, engineers, policy specialists, platform partners, and other teams across the company. According to Facebook, the review initially focused on apps identified by their number of users and amount of data accessible before expanding to apps that signal potential violations of Facebook’s policies.
“Where we have concerns, we conduct a more intensive examination,” Facebook continued. “This includes a background investigation of the developer and a technical analysis of the app’s activity on the platform. Depending on the results, a range of actions could be taken from requiring developers to submit to in-depth questioning, to conducting inspections or banning an app from the platform.”
The apps suspended are associated with about 400 developers, Facebook said. “Many were not live but were still in their testing phase when we suspended them … and in many cases, the developers did not respond to our request for information so we suspended them, honoring our commitment to take action,” the post added.
Some apps have been completely banned. An example provided is “myPersonality,” which shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place and refused Facebook’s request to participate in an audit, the post explains.
In addition to the investigation, Facebook said it has also improved how it evaluates and sets policies for developers that build on its platforms. “We’ve grown our teams dedicated to investigating and enforcing against bad actors,” Facebook said. “This will allow us to, on an annual basis, review every active app with access to more than basic user information—and when we find violators, we’ll take a range of enforcement actions.”
“We have also developed new rules to more strictly control a developer’s access to user data. Apps that provide minimal utility for users, like personality quizzes, may not be allowed on Facebook,” the post stated. “Apps may not request a person’s data unless the developer uses it to meaningfully improve the quality of a person’s experience. They must also clearly demonstrate to people how their data would be used to provide them that experience.”
More impactful than the FTC’s record-breaking $5 billion penalty assessed against Facebook in July for privacy violations was its 20-year settlement order, which imposes significant structural reforms on how Facebook must do business moving forward, including greater corporate accountability and more rigorous compliance monitoring. It also creates an unprecedented level of transparency for the social media giant’s privacy practices.
Concluded Facebook: “[A]cross the board, we’re making progress. We won’t catch everything, and some of what we do catch will be with help from others outside Facebook. Our goal is to bring problems to light so we can address them quickly, stay ahead of bad actors and make sure that people can continue to enjoy engaging social experiences on Facebook while knowing their data will remain safe.”