The Strategist

Facebook is struggling to find app developers

06/28/2018 - 16:17

Having promised to find out where and how developers of third-party applications accessed users' data in 2007-2015, Facebook still cannot report on the results of this work. As it turned out, many developers have already left the business, others do not respond to Facebook's requests, others are cooperating, but they themselves need time to find out the data’s location.

After the scandal with leakage of personal data of 87 million Facebook users through Cambridge Analytica that broke out in March, the social network took a number of measures to tighten control over the security of these users. In particular, Facebook has restricted access to third-party applications and application developers for such data. At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg personally promised that the social network would thoroughly check all applications that had access to large amounts of data (more than 100,000 users) since 2007, and find out exactly how these data were used and where they are now. However, it turned out to be quite difficult.

First, many application developers who had access to a large amount of personal data from Facebook users ten years ago have already left the business or are now engaged in completely different projects. In addition, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), some developers do not respond to Facebook's requests or do not want to allow the social network to their servers and reveal details of creating their applications.

At the same time, Facebook has no legal right to force developers to cooperate. "They cannot oblige these developers to provide them with information," explained Professor of the Georgia Institute of Technology Ian Bogost. "It's not a federal investigation of a crime or something like that." This is a private company. So what could be the consequences for it? "

Now, Facebook has to rummage through huge amounts of information, fishing for what will help locate the data and understand whether it was used within the law or with violations. If any violations are detected, Facebook notifies relevant services that are conducting the verification. A violation, for example, is storage of personal data that can be accessed by a particular user, or sale of such data to a third party.

Most application developers are still cooperating with Facebook, but this does not make the process much easier. As Facebook Vice-President Amy Archibong told WSJ, most developers responded to requests, but they themselves have to conduct a virtual investigations in search of data. "They need to remember and understand how their applications were created and worked back in those years," he explained.

It's interesting that Facebook cannot verify Cambridge Analytica's servers to find out how this company stored and used personal data of social network users. The British government blocked access to its servers for the company.

Commenting on the difficulties, Vice-President Amy Archibong said in an interview with WSJ that "99.99999999%" of Facebook application developers are still "responsible executives" and the social network would not want to spoil relations with them. According to the vice-president, "large groups of internal and external experts" are engaged in the verification, however, it will take "many more months".