In a blog post on Friday, Facebook revealed to suspend tens of thousands of apps as a part of their ongoing App Developer investigation. Facebook’s app suspension began in March 2018, in a response to the episode involving Cambridge Analytica scandal. According to the investigation, these apps have mishandled the users’ personal data. Facebook says it now also identifies apps based on signals associated with an app’s potential to abuse its policies.
The apps suspended by Facebook come from just 400 developers. “The review is ongoing,” said Facebook “and comes from hundreds of contributors, including attorneys, external investigators, data scientists, engineers, policy specialists, and teams within Facebook”. However, the company failed to provide details about what the apps had done wrong or their names, instead stating they were targeted for a “variety of reasons.”
“App developers remain a vital part of the Facebook ecosystem,” said the company in a blog post, “They help to make our world more social and more engaging. But people need to know we’re protecting their privacy. And across the board, we’re making progress.”
Facebook has also banned myPersonality an app, which shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place and refused to participate in an audit. It has also taken legal action against Rankwave, a South Korean data analytics company and filed an action against LionMobi and JediMobi. These two companies used their apps to infect users’ phones with malware in a profit-generating scheme. Facebook says this is part of an ongoing investigation and is just a progress report.
Facebook was fined a record $5bn imposed in July 2019 for data breaches and revelations of illegal data sharing. Facebook’s new agreement with the FTC will bring its own set of requirements for bringing oversight to app developers. It requires developers to annually certify compliance with Facebook’s policies. Any developer that doesn’t go along with these requirements will be held accountable. It has also developed new rules to more strictly control a developer’s access to user data, including suspension or revoking of a developer’s access to any API that has not been used in the past 90 days.
Facebook’s app suspension sheds light on broader privacy issues
The extent of how many apps Facebook had suspended was revealed later on Friday in new court documents from Massachusetts’ attorney general, which has been probing Facebook’s data-collection practices for months. Per these documents, Facebook had suspended 69,000 apps. They also “identified approximately 10,000 applications that may also have misappropriated and/or misused consumers’ personal data,” The court filings say 6,000 apps had a “large number of installing users,” and 2,000 exhibited behaviors that “may suggest data misuse.”
Experts still believe that the social-networking giant has escaped tough consequences for its past privacy abuses. Per NYT, “Facebook’s announcement was “a tacit admission that the scale of its data privacy issues was far larger than it had previously acknowledged.”
Ron Wyden, U.S Senator from Oregon tweeted on Facebook’s app suspension, “This wasn’t some accident. Facebook put up a neon sign that said “Free Private Data,” and let app developers have their fill of Americans’ personal info. The FTC needs to hold Mark Zuckerberg personally responsible.”
David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails also talked about Facebook’s Facebook’s app suspension. “Another day, another Facebook privacy scandal. Tens of thousands of apps had improper access to data ala Cambridge Analytica. FB has previously claimed only hundreds did. If you still use FB or IG, ask yourself, is any scandal enough to make you quit?”, he tweeted.
The company’s lack of information about the said disclosures is also likely to reignite calls for heightened data regulation of Facebook. It also shows that the company’s privacy practices remain a work in progress.