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Facebook starts taking data guardian role seriously

Facebook needs to get back in the good books of both regulators and the general public sharpish, and it seems it is taking a machete to the developer ecosystem to do so.

As part of the agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook has promised to create a more comprehensive oversight model for the development and implementation of apps on its platform, and it does seem to be taking its responsibility seriously this time around. Whether this prevents a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which kicked-off the privacy debate remains to be seen, though it is making the right noises.

“Our App Developer Investigation is by no means finished,” said Ime Archibong, VP of Product Partnerships.

“But there is meaningful progress to report so far. To date, this investigation has addressed millions of apps. Of those, tens of thousands have been suspended for a variety of reasons while we continue to investigate.”

Although it is very difficult to figure out how many app developers and applications there are actually on the Facebook platform at any single point, Archibong has stated that 400 developers have been deemed to be breaking the rules. These 400 are responsible for the ‘tens of thousands’ of apps which have been suspended.

While this is a promising start from the social media giant, it will have to do a lot more. We struggle to believe the number of suspect app developers is as low as 400. There might be 400 in London, but worldwide it is going to be a number which is monstrously larger.

This is where Facebook will struggle to be the perfect guardian of our digital lives. With the number of developers and apps unthinkable it will never be able to protect us from every bad actor. Whether best effort is good enough for the critics remains to be seen.

Dating back to March 2018, this is a saga which Facebook cannot shake-off. The general public, politicians and regulators were all enraged by what can only be described as gross negligence from the social media giant. Rules were in place, though there were not nearly comprehensive enough and rarely were bad actors put to the sword and held accountable.

This is what Facebook has to prove to its critics; it is a company which is responsible and can act as an effective guardian of the user’s personal information. It is currently being judged in court of public opinion, a very difficult place to make any progress when the masses are baying for blood.

Although the Cambridge Analytica scandal is only part of the problem, it was the incident which turned the tides against the technology industry. Along with other privacy scandals and debatable business practices, Silicon Valley is being placed under the microscope and it is not working out well. Best case scenario for the likes of Facebook and Google is stricter regulation, though the worst outcome could see acquisitions reversed in the pursuit of increased competition and diluted influence at these companies.

This Facebook investigation is looking to identify the developers who are most likely to break the rules, though there are stricter guidelines being put in place. Archibong is suggesting many of the quiz apps which plague the platform will be banned moving forward, as many will be judged to collect too much information when measured against the value which they offer. Moving forward, these developers shouldn’t be able to get away with it.

This in itself is the problem; Facebook was asleep at the wheel. It created a valuable product and then started to count the cash. It didn’t evolve the rules as the platform grew into an entirely different proposition and it didn’t keep an eye on whether app developers were breaking the basic rules which it had in place anyway.

If Facebook’s quest continues on its current trajectory, the developer ecosystem might have to work a bit harder to access personal information. Apps with very limited functionality and value will not be granted access to the same treasure troves, while the team will also have to prove collecting personal information will improve experience for the user.

Another interesting point which was raised in the commitment is an annual review. Archibong is suggesting every app will be assessed on a yearly basis, and those who do not respond effectively to the audits will be temporarily suspended or banned.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook is doing enough to keep critics happy, though there is no such thing as being heavy-handed here. Facebook will have to take the strictest approach, over compensating even, to ensure it regains the trust and credibility it threw away through inaction.


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