In response to the ongoing scandal over its data collection, usage and sharing policies, Facebook has announced a slew of its changes to the Facebook and Instagram APIs. These APIs, or application programming interfaces, allow third parties to build applications that interact with Facebook and Instagram.
The changes have the potential to affect a number of players that participate in the Facebook and Instagram ecosystems, including brands.
So what are the changes exactly?
Facebook will now require apps that use the Pages, Events and Groups APIs to undergo an app review process. It is also limiting the information that can be obtained through these APIs.
Gone: the ability to use Facebook’s Search API with users, pages, groups and events. Gone soon: the App Insights API.
Facebook is also adding major restrictions to Facebook Login, which allows third parties to allow users to log in to their services using their Facebook accounts.
It came to light last week that hidden trackers were collecting data made available through Facebook Login, so now, third parties can’t obtain user information like education, work, relationship status and various interests, such as books, games and music, through Facebook Login.
Finally, Facebook has sped up its deprecation of its old Instagram API Platform, which was originally slated to be killed off over the next two years.
The brand impact
In announcing the changes to its platform, Facebook stated “We never make these platform changes lightly, but at the same time, there’s nothing more important to us than privacy and security. We know these changes are not easy and we regret any disruption caused, but we believe these updates will help strengthen trust in our broader developer ecosystem.”
For brands that have built their own Facebook apps, or implemented Facebook Login, some of these changes could break key functionality. Of course, most brands active on Facebook haven’t built their own apps using the Facebook and Instagram APIs, but many use third-party tools that rely on those APIs. For instance, brands frequently turn to third party services that allow them to more efficiently manage their Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts.
Some of the changes that Facebook is making could conceivably impact these services. What’s more, given the fact that the scrutiny of Facebook’s collection and use of data likely isn’t going to subside anytime soon, it’s entirely possible if not probable that more changes could be coming.
And while Facebook is the focus of the discussion around data, it isn’t the only player making changes that could fundamentally alter how brands interact with social platforms. For instance, in a clear effort to address concerns over the use of bots to meddle in elections, Twitter earlier this year announced changes to its API platform that will also impact legitimate services that help companies manage multiple accounts and automate some of their activities.
Twitter this month delayed some of those changes to give third parties behind popular Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific time to switch over to a new API, but that new API will still potentially leave them in a position where they can’t offer their users, which include brands, functionality they offer today.
With that in mind, the message is clear: to quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’.” Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are being forced to change how third parties interact with their services, and that means those third parties will have to change how they interact with their audiences on those services.