Will Instagram, Facebook Privacy Changes Drive Away Brands, Influencers?

Following widespread scrutiny in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal – the one that saw a political data firm hired by President Trump's 2016 election campaign gain access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users – change is under way at Facebook, Inc. As a result, fashion’s favorite app for marketing, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is subject to a new privacy policy that aims to explain the data the app gathers on users more clearly. It is also undergoing what are being described as “drastic and unannounced changes" that have a very real impact on brands and influencers. 

As reported by Inc., “Without any warning or even an after-the-fact public announcement, Instagram locked down its [Application Programming Interface – or API] in late March, removing access from a number of apps while reducing the limit for API calls for all others to just 200 [per hour], down from the previous limit of 5,000 [per hour].” 

In plain English: This lower rate provides developers with access to far less data than they were able to pull from Instagram before the change. These coveted API calls can include coding requests to Instagram to retrieve photos with a specific hashtag or lists of recently geo-tagged media. Still yet, such calls enable brands or Influencers to create and automatically update galleries of Instagram photos (from a specific Instagram account, or from tags created by other users) on an external website.

Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, an influencer marketing platform backed by IBM’s Watson, told AdWeek that “some of his company’s third-party partners” have responded to these limits by  “rationing the number of hashtags they track,” for instance.

Other changes? Facebook said that it would introduce a more stringent review process for use of Facebook Login for apps. This means that third-party apps “will have to send users through the Facebook Login process every 90 days, and the person logging in has to agree to the data permissions by tapping ‘Continue,’” per TechCrunch. This will affect a significant number of apps, which have come to rely on Facebook Login to offer users an easier way to sign into their own service, but also to give the app operators the ability to access users’ Facebook data. 

Another blow to app developers, whether it be in the form of influencers’ own apps or branded apps: Facebook will block apps from pulling users’ personal data after three months of non-use.

What does this mean for brands and marketers? Technically speaking, quite a bit. These changes mean a lot less data, in theory. At least some third-party influencer platforms are already finding ways around Instagram’s move to lower the API limit. Lyle Stevens, co-founder and CEO of influencer management software company Mavrck, told AdWeek: “Several influencer platforms have instructed creators to switch over to Instagram business profiles immediately to continue using their services.” Stevens called that approach “impulsive and self-serving.”

As for brands and influencers’ reliance on Instagram more generally, Detert says that little will likely change on this front. “Consumers are still on Instagram and love the product. Despite there being less data because people weren’t prepared for this, influencers still have deals.”

The publication's David Cohen echoed this, writing, “Instagram is far too embedded in most influencer marketing strategies for companies to declare that they will drastically cut back their emphasis on the platform or leave it altogether.”