Future Tense

Facebook Just Made Using a Bunch of Apps a Little More Annoying. Good.

A lit sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California on March 21, 2018. 
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg vowed on March 21 to 'step up' to fix problems at the social media giant, as it fights a snowballing scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON        (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A lit sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook’s corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California, on March 21. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg vowed March 21 to ‘step up’ to fix problems at the social media giant as it fights a snowballing scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users. JOSH EDELSON/Getty Images

It’s bad enough that Facebook improperly shared the data of perhaps 87 million users with the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Now it’s making the experience on apps linked to the social network more irritating, too. But maybe that’s actually a good thing.

On Wednesday, as part of its response to the scandal, Facebook announced streamlined, easier-to-use security controls and simplified language in its security and privacy policies. The company also indicated that beginning April 9, users will be able to see whether Cambridge Analytica harvested their data via a link that will appear at the top of their news feeds. The updates appeared to be a step in the right direction while only mildly intruding on users visiting the site.

Pinterest made a similar move this week when it sent notifications about a new privacy policy that will take effect May 1 and will require users’ approval. The app, which integrated more closely with Facebook late last year with a new Messenger extension that makes it easier to share pins online, followed Facebook’s lead in clarifying the way it collects and uses people’s data.

But Wednesday afternoon, Facebook also rolled out changes to the way third-party apps can collect information from the site. “Starting today, Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information, such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events, and groups,” the company said in a blog post. “We’ll show people a link at the top of their News Feed so they can see what apps they use and the information they have shared with those apps. People will also be able to remove apps that they no longer want.” The idea was to protect people’s data by restricting the information available to outside apps, but it had unintended consequences that affected how users connected with other accounts linked to Facebook.

The update caused a particular uproar on Tinder, whose users complained on Twitter that they had been kicked off the app and couldn’t log back on. Those who tried to connect using their Facebook account were asked to provide additional permissions and prompted to log into Facebook, resulting in an endless loop. Tinder responded in a tweet, saying, “A technical issue is preventing users from logging into Tinder. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working to have everyone swiping again soon.”


The Tinder glitch reveals the problem with integrating Facebook into other social media apps. Although a movement to delete Facebook has gained moment among businesses, celebrities, and private users, doing so could make it more difficult to access and interact on other apps. For example, it’s possible to create a new Tinder account using a phone number, but users who had previously logged on via Facebook would lose all access to matches and conversations they accumulated. As Wired noted, many people on Tinder choose to sign in with their pre-existing Facebook profile because it’s simply easier to transfer photos to the dating app and find out whether they have mutual friends with a potential match. That convenience has caused many people to think twice before hitting the final delete button on Facebook.

Social media users weren’t the only ones who encountered problems as a result of Facebook’s new privacy changes. Some app developers woke Thursday morning to inboxes full of error messages as Facebook-owned Instagram curtailed the number of times third parties could collect updated information on users. Instagram warned back in July that it would limit that number (or entirely restrict access), but it accelerated the process in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Business Insider reported that developers found out about the changes only when the app started sending error messages Wednesday night. The move was intended to protect people by prohibiting third parties like Cambridge Analytica from exploiting their data, but it also means that apps, such as Framatic and Sprout Social, that rely on Instagram data to provide add-on services may no longer work.

The bombardment of irritating notifications and the escalation of development bugs as a result of Facebook’s new privacy settings are annoying and bothersome, to be sure, but they’re not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good that apps are (intentionally or unintentionally through malfunctions) reminding users of privacy policies and asking again for their permission. Just by signing up, users agree to share personal information, which multiplies if several apps are linked. It’s easy to click “accept” without looking at the dense text—but when a change interferes with your ability to find a date, it may be a good reminder of exactly what information you’re handing over to third parties.