Facebook—the social media company that has been under intense public criticism for not adequately safeguarding the personal information of its 2 billion users—has suspended tens of thousands of apps for a variety of violations, including improperly sharing private data.
In a post published on Friday, Facebook VP of Product Partnerships Ime Archibong said the move was part of an ongoing review that began in March 2018, following revelations that, two years earlier, Cambridge Analytica used the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users to build voter profiles for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Facebook has been embroiled in several other privacy controversies since then.
The tens of thousands of apps were associated with about 400 developers. While some of the apps were suspended, in a few cases others were banned completely. Offenses that led to banning included inappropriately sharing data obtained from the Facebook platform, making data available without protecting user’s identities, or clear violations of the social network’s terms of service.
One of the few apps Facebook identified was called myPersonality. According to Archibong, it “shared information with researchers and companies with only limited protections in place, and then refused our request to participate in an audit.”
Friday’s post said Facebook took legal action against some groups associated with the apps. Companies LionMobi and JediMobi, Archibong said, used their apps to infect users’ phones with malware in a profit-generating scheme. Facebook has already stopped the alleged fraud and refunded advertisers. Facebook has also sued Ukrainian men Gleb Sluchevsky and Andrey Gorbachov for allegedly using quiz apps to scrape users’ Facebook data. Facebook has also sued South Korean data-analytics company Rankwave for allegedly failing to cooperate with the investigation.
And we are far from finished. As each month goes by, we have incorporated what we learned and reexamined the ways that developers can build using our platforms. We’ve also improved the ways we investigate and enforce against potential policy violations that we find.
Beyond this investigation, we’ve made widespread improvements to how we evaluate and set policies for all developers that build on our platforms. We’ve removed a number of APIs, the channels that developers use to access various types of data. We’ve grown our teams dedicated to investigating and enforcing against bad actors. 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.
According to The New York Times, court documents filed in state court in Boston as part of an investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general into Facebook show that the company has suspended 69,000 apps. Of those, 10,000 were removed from Facebook for potentially misappropriating Facebook users’ data, the NYT reported.
Over the past 12 months, Facebook has faced scathing criticism for practices that have revealed personal information of its users. In July, the company agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $5 billion to settle charges it “subverted users’ privacy choices to serve its own business interests.”
Friday’s revelations suggest that the scope of the privacy controversies may be bigger than company officials have previously acknowledged. Now would be a good time for readers who use Facebook to review the apps they’ve installed and delete any that request large amounts of data or don’t provide a meaningful benefit.