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Facebook Prepares To Shut Down Friends Data API: Why This Is Good For Privacy

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App developers using Facebook Login will no longer have access to their users' friends lists.

Facebook is moving to restrict developer access to user information on its platform, with the side effect of boosting privacy for its 1.4 billion users.

Facebook product manager for developer tools Simon Cross announced in a blog post that all old apps using Facebook will be automatically upgraded to Graph API v2.0 and the new Facebook Login starting Thursday, April 30. This will give Facebook users much more control over what information they want to share with developers when using Facebook to log in to a certain app.

In the past, users had no way of choosing what information they want to share with app developers. The only choice they had was whether to use Facebook to log in to their apps or not. If they choose to log in with Facebook, the apps retrieve all the information they want, including information that may not be relevant in making their apps work.

With the new Facebook Login, however, users will have full control over the information they share with apps. They will also be able to change their permissions in apps they have already logged in using Facebook. To do so, users will have to go to app settings on their Facebook account and choose what information they want to share with each app.

However, taking away permissions only means apps will no longer have access to users' information in the future. It doesn't mean developers will delete the information they have already collected in the past. Once permissions are changed, they will be prompted to log in again to the app using Facebook, where they can then choose which information they want to share.

All new apps created since April 20, 2014 already use the new version of the Graph API and Facebook Login, so some users might have already noticed that some apps allow them to specify their permissions. Many of the more popular apps, including Netflix, Pinterest, and Soundcloud, have already upgraded to the new APIs.

"We've spent the last year giving developers a ton of feedback," Cross told  journalists in a media event in San Francisco. "We really want developers to make it clear to people how their information will be used."

Facebook also created a Login Review team, which looks for apps that may be asking for more information than they need. Cross says the team has combed through some 40,000 apps and have created new permissions that ask for the specific information those apps need.

Quite a number of apps will be affected, mostly those that rely on getting access to users' friends' data to be operational. For instance, an app called Job Fusion relies on a user's friends work information to show job openings at the companies those friends work for. Now, Job Fusion has to ask for permission from every single friend on that list to be able to pull data from their timelines.

Still, Cross says the important thing is that Facebook finds a way to ensure users that their data are more secure with apps, which is beneficial to developers in the long run since users will be comfortable about logging in to their apps with Facebook.

"If people feel comfortable logging in with Facebook, they'll log in with Facebook more, and that is better for developers," he said.

Cross also adds that, since rolling out the new API to new apps, the number of users using Facebook Login increased by 11 percent and apps on average now request 50 percent fewer permissions, meaning developers have become more sensitive about the type and amount of data they ask for.

Photo: Ludovic Toinel | Flickr

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