Facebook suspends tens of thousands of apps amid privacy investigation


Removals are part of inquiry into how developers use data, which the company started after the Cambridge Analytica scandal


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Facebook removed tens of thousands of apps for privacy reasons. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Facebook has suspended tens of thousands of apps from the platform for privacy reasons, it announced in a blogpost on Friday.

The removals come as part of an ongoing investigation into how developers use data, which the company started after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018. The news also reveals that the platform is home to more problematic apps than previously thought.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which uncovered how information from millions of Facebook profiles was used to influence opinion during Brexit and the 2016 US election, resulted in political fallout, investigations and a record fine of $5bn imposed against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission in July 2019. Under that agreement Facebook will also be held to a new set of requirements to bring oversight to app developers, requiring them to comply with policies and undergo annual certifications.

“App developers remain a vital part of the Facebook ecosystem,” Facebook said. “They help to make our world more social and more engaging. But people need to know we’re protecting their privacy.”

The tens of thousands of apps Facebook has removed come from just 400 developers, Facebook said in its blogpost, and millions more have been investigated. The review is ongoing and comes from hundreds of contributors, including attorneys, external investigators, data scientists, engineers, policy specialists, and teams within Facebook, the company said.

Facebook banned an app called myPersonality that refused to comply with the company’s audit and reportedly shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place. It also took legal action against the data analytics company Rankwave, filing a lawsuit in California after the South Korean firm failed to comply with its investigation.

Facebook also filed legal action against companies LionMobi and JediMobi, companies that used apps to infect users phones with malware to generate profit and against two Ukrainian men for using quiz apps to scrape user data from Facebook.

The increased scrutiny comes after the record FTC fine and as dozens of US states have announced they will launch antitrust and privacy investigations into Google and Facebook. Several presidential candidates have also called for Facebook to be broken up.

The company said it is “far from finished” investigating and that it has expanded the team dedicated to investigating these violations, restricted the APIs used to connect to Facebook and set more specific policies around developing on Facebook.

“As each month goes by, we have incorporated what we learned and re-examined the ways that developers can build using our platforms,” Facebook said. “We’ve also improved the ways we investigate and enforce against potential policy violations that we find.”

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