Facebook’s App Developer Investigation

Facebook recently posted an update on their app developer investigation. After the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Facebook decided to take a more in-depth look at how app developers were using users’ information from the platform.

One of the main points with Cambridge Analytica is that they were able to gather user data not only from the people who filled out their surveys, but from all of their friends and friends of friends. The goal was to try and determine personality profiles based on the data points gathered. The reach was far and invasive, in my opinion. In an effort to prevent developers from gaining broad access to the Facebook social web, Facebook decided to launch an investigation of existing apps and developers.

Some of the main challenges with allowing developers to connect applications to Facebook is that the definition of personally identifiable information is blurry. Many companies now collect dozens, if not hundreds of data points on us. Most people would probably recognize a few obvious examples, such as, SSN/SIN, phone numbers, birthdates, etc. as being personally identifiable, but lots of other bits of data are not so distinct.

Sometimes data points can be taken in aggregate and become personally identifiable. For example, some algorithms can determine a person’s sexual orientation based on their likes/dislikes. Or when a woman is pregnant based on her purchases. When these disparate data points are combined together, it can result in unintended consequences, such as someone being “outed” in a place where it isn’t acceptable. So unless these kinds of issues are identified and regulated, it will be challenging to properly protect peoples’ data.

Facebook, and social media in general, is in a tough position with these kinds of issues. Facebook was originally created with the idea of sharing openly and connecting with anyone and everyone. Part of the strategy was also to allow companies to send advertisements to targeted audiences based on their profile data. This was to keep the platform free for everyone.

However, the ramifications of having an open platform with communications going in every direction weren’t fully considered. Or how to manage these things on a global level.

The rapid expansion, and lack of attention towards privacy and regulation, resulted in a lot of challenging situations for Facebook and other forms of social media. I’m not sure what the resolution is, but it’s encouraging that people are finally paying attention.

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