Facebook revealed it has suspended “tens of thousands” of apps due to an investigation into how developers use its members’ data.
“We promised then that we would review all of the apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform policies in 2014. It has involved hundreds of people: attorneys, external investigators, data scientists, engineers, policy specialists, platform partners and other teams across the company. Our review helps us to better understand patterns of abuse in order to root out bad actors among developers,” Ime Archibong, VP of product partnerships, wrote in a blog post.
Archibong explained that the company has been taking a close look at the signals of an app possibly abusing Facebook’s policies. If there is cause for concern, Facebook will then launch a more intensive examination, including a background probe of the developer and a technical analysis of the app’s activity, potentially leading to actions like in-depth questioning or the banning of the app altogether.
The investigation has so far resulted in tens of thousands of apps – associated with about 400 developers – being suspended “for a variety of reasons.”
Archibong pointed out, however, that the apps were not necessarily a threat to users, and many were not yet live.
A few apps have been banned completely, such as myPersonality, which Facebook discovered was sharing information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place. Developers then refused the company’s request to participate in an audit.
Facebook has also turned to the courts when needed. The company filed a lawsuit in May against Rankwave, a South Korean data analytics company that would not cooperate with its investigation. There has also been legal action taken against LionMobi and JediMobi, two companies that used their apps to infect users’ phones with malware, as well as two Ukrainian men accused of using quiz apps to scrape users’ data from Facebook’s platform.
In addition, the company has removed several APIs, grown its investigative team and created new rules to control access to user data.
“App developers remain a vital part of the Facebook ecosystem. 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,” Archibong wrote. “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.”