Facebook: Privacy vs Data

As Facebook prioritises users’ privacy over developers access to user data, Wolfstar’s Head of Digital, Jonathan Clarkson debunks the tech jargon and explains how the changes Mark Zuckerburg and his team are making will affect business organisations.

What is an API

The Application Programming Interface or API is the protocols and tools that a third party software, such as scheduling (Hootsuite, Buffer etc.) or reporting tools (Social Report, Social Blade etc.), can use to access information on a platform (like Facebook or Instagram). Think of it as the platform’s USB port, it allows data to be transferred in or out without using the ‘official app’.

Facebook and Instagram’s API was typically used for one of two reasons: gathering data from the platform; or scheduling posts to the platform.

So what’s going on?

Recently there have been a number of problems coming to light surrounding the use of personal data from Facebook. The company that started it off was Cambridge Analytica, who used data gathered from Facebook (via it’s API) to influence political campaigns, in particular the recent election of US President Donald Trump. Although this information was supposed to be relatively broad, and make it difficult to identify an individual, Cambridge Analytica claimed to have psychological profiles of 220 million US citizens. [1]

As time goes on, it is becoming more apparent that the data gathered by Cambridge Analytica, and others, is far more in-depth than first reported. This has prompted Facebook and Instagram to review its privacy policies and restrict the data third parties can access. More social media platforms will inevitably follow suit.

How will this affect me?

The changes to Facebook and Instagram’s APIs are currently targeted at taking data from the platform. Putting data into the platform seems unaffected.

This means that if you use scheduling tools, such as Hootsuite or Buffer, you’ll be largely unaffected.

Where it will really hit home is with your reporting software. Many analytic and reporting tools (such as Social Blade or Social Report) rely heavily on being able to extract user data from Facebook and Instagram so depending on their API requirements they could be hit hard.

Social media searching and tracking tools, such as Radian 6 and Sprout Social, are also likely to be affected.

Let’s take a look at some current social media scenarios and the impact of he changes:

I use a social media scheduler:

Such as*: Hootsuite, Buffer

Will you be affected: A little

What will work: Scheduling posts to your page should still work fine

What won’t work: Due to the way Facebook Groups work, you might not be able to schedule into Facebook Groups. You may also have problems with direct messages or seeing your posts engagement such as likes or comments.

I use a social analytics tool:

Such as*: Social Report, Social Blade

Will you be affected: Yes

What will work: Probably very little

What won’t work: Anything that requires data from Facebook or Instagram

I use a social tracker/listener/search engine:

Such as*: Radian 6, Sprout Social

Will you be affected: Yes

What will work: Probably very little

What won’t work: Anything that requires data from Facebook or Instagram

*Some of these platforms may have fewer or more issues than suggested depending on how they use Facebook and Instagram APIs.

So what next?

Many of the changes to Instagram’s APIs were already on the cards. The changes may have been moved up but Instagram are releasing a new, upgraded API. Chances are that most of this information will become available again, just with less personal information.

You may also see improvements in Facebook’s own analytical tools as they will be reluctant to hit companies too hard, relying on them for advertising revenue.

Unfortunately for at least the next few months we can expect further cuts to APIs and more social platforms following suit.

If you’re concerned about how changes to Facebook and Instagram APIs will affect your business, give us a ring on 0333 006 4527 and we’ll be happy to help.

[1] https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-cambridge-analytica/trump-consultants-harvested-data-from-50-million-facebook-users-reports-idUKKCN1GT02Y?il=0

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