Facebook Suspends 200 Apps During Privacy Investigation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on March 21 that the company would investigate "all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014." Facebook offered an update on that investigation today, and the company said that of the thousands of apps it has looked into, "around 200" have been suspended while they await further review.

This investigation started with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed just how easily app developers could gather information about Facebook users and their friends. Cambridge Analytica made headlines because of its scale (it affected millions of Americans) and how it was used (to sway the 2016 presidential election), but it also made it clear that Facebook was lax in how it managed access to its users' personal data.

Zuckerberg's promise to investigate apps that gathered user data before the restrictions were put in place in 2014 was supposed to assure Facebook users that the company was taking their privacy more seriously. Facebook explained how it will conduct this inquiry with today's update:

The investigation process is in full swing, and it has two phases. First, a comprehensive review to identify every app that had access to this amount of Facebook data. And second, where we have concerns, we will conduct interviews, make requests for information (RFI) — which ask a series of detailed questions about the app and the data it has access to — and perform audits that may include on-site inspections.

The company also said that "large teams of internal and external experts" have already looked into "thousands of apps." (Facebook didn't provide official numbers.) The 200 or so apps that have been suspended thus far will soon be examined more closely to see if they misused any data. If they did, Facebook said it would ban them and let people know via a dedicated page on its Help Center, just like it did with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook didn't offer a timeline for this investigation. Instead, the company merely said that it's "investing heavily to make sure this investigation is as thorough and timely as possible." Whether the company will continue to invest after the Cambridge Analytica debacle is forgotten remains to be seen, but at least it's finally looking into how app developers use the data they gather from its platform, right? Let's hope this scrutiny continues.

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