- Instagram suddenly clamped down on third-party apps by drastically reducing their access to user data this week, according to TechCrunch. The move comes as parent company Facebook seeks to contain a continuing crisis after reports that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal information of 50 million people without permission.
- Instagram surprised software developers with a 96% cut to how often they can pull data from its application programming interface (API), which controls how the image-sharing platform works with mobile apps. The API now only allows third-party apps to request data updates 200 times an hour instead of the previous 5,000, meaning a limit to the total volume of information that outsiders have access to.
- Apps that do things like helping marketers to keep an eye on user posts or customer complaints stop working once they reach that limit. Some developers were cut off entirely, and Instagram stopped accepting new apps, according to Recode.
The sudden change to Instagram's API appears to be another ham-handed attempt by Facebook to cope with the data-privacy scandal that has engulfed the company the past few weeks. Facebook last week announced a shutdown of its Partner Categories program, which launched in 2013 and helped advertisers target ads based on third-party data. The social network also plans to require businesses to confirm consent to obtain consumer email addresses, which they use for ad targeting through Custom Audiences.
Instagram hasn't yet commented on the API change, leaving app developers who depend on the platform to speculate about its motivations for limiting data access and to search for alternatives before the change hurts their business. Some third-party apps to stop functioning altogether, according to complaints on the StackOverflow online forum. One commenter pointed out that, ironically, an Instagram page with information on developer limits wasn't working.
In the past, Instagram has typically given advance warning to developers about API changes to give them time to make adjustments to coding without disrupting their business operations. Instagram in January announced a plan to shut down its old API by July 31, 2018. As part of that change, apps no longer would be able to read follower lists or follow and unfollow accounts on a user's behalf, among other changes. The announcement appeared aimed at apps that promise to grow an Instagram user's following or to perform other unofficial tasks, per TechCrunch.
Now, Facebook is taking an additional step to safeguard and prevent misuse of user information across its other platforms after facing considerable backlash. Taken together, a series of steps over the past couple of weeks will likely make advertising on Facebook — and now potentially Instagram — more cumbersome and less efficient for marketers. Whether this will be enough to cause brands or users to leave the platforms, which still offer significant reach, remains to be seen.