Facebook is ditching a major data source and limiting third-party app access

Facebook has a lot of cleaning up to do in the wake of #deletefacebook, declining user trust, and a falling stock price — and after the first step of reorganizing its privacy settings, Facebook is now ditching the partner categories that allowed third-party data companies to use data gleaned elsewhere to advertise on Facebook. On March 28, Facebook announced it will shut down Partner Categories, a process that will take six months to wind down. The change follows a pause for adding new third-party apps after one particular third-party app has the company in hot water over the data the app sold to Cambridge Analytica.

In a brief, three-sentence announcement Wednesday night, March 28, Facebook said it will be eliminating the platform that allows other companies to use the data they collected off Facebook for advertising on Facebook. “While this is a common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook,” the statement reads.

The feature, which has been around for about five years, allowed advertisers to use a list of customer categories created by a third-party data company. As Facebook explained when the feature launched, the tool could be used to allow a dealership to target individuals who are in the market for a new vehicle. But along with tracking data through cookies online, third-party companies could also track offline activities. At the feature’s launch, partner categories had over 500 categories labeling consumer interests, behaviors, and habits.

The move will leave Facebook with two remaining major sources of user data for ads. The first is the data the users themselves provide, such as the posts they like or other access granted to the company through opt-in settings. The second source of data for advertisers is provided by the business itself, such as a list of email subscribers or customer data tracked through a store perks loyalty card.

Eliminating the partner categories is just one step in a long list of changes Facebook has announced since the Cambridge Analytica fallout. Earlier this week, the company also said that it had paused the app review, temporarily preventing any new apps from coming into the Facebook program. The app review process will be frozen as the company reviews all the apps that had access to data before a change in 2014 prevented platforms from accessing friends’ data without permission. Facebook will also be increasing the standards for those third-party apps before opening up the process again.

While some of the changes were prompted by recent events, new privacy laws in Europe go into effect in May,  which already had Facebook planning to revisit privacy settings.

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