SAN FRANCISCO — Under pressure from the Massachusetts Attorney General, Facebook Friday said it suspended “tens of thousands” of apps as part of an investigation into how outside developers use its members’ data, a number far higher than it had previously disclosed and a sign that data privacy remains a central issue for the social network.
The investigation arose from it began in March 2018 following the revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a British consultancy, had improperly retrieved and used people’s Facebook information without their permission.
Initially, Facebook said in May 2018 it had suspended 200 apps, and doubled the figure several months later. Then on Friday the numbered skyrocketed to tens of thousands of apps that were associated with about 400 developers.
Facebook’s revelations came as a Suffolk Superior Court judge in Boston on Friday unsealed a petition filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, calling for Facebook to identify 10,000 apps the company is investigating for possible violations of its privacy policies. Healey has been examining the social network’s data-sharing practices, and in August, the company petitioned the court to seal the records.
“For nearly a year, Facebook has fought to shield information about improper data-sharing with app developers,” Healey said in a statement. “If only Facebook cared this much about privacy when it was giving away the personal data of everyone you know online.”
According to one of the unsealed documents, Facebook has told Healey’s office it has already suspended 69,000 apps from about 300 developers.
But the company has refused to reveal the developers of the apps it’s still investigating, and Healey needs the information so the state can conduct an investigation of its own.
“Basically we are trying to find out if there are any other Cambridge Analyticas out there,” said Max Weinstein, Healey’s chief of consumer protection.
In Facebook’s notification Friday, made in a blog post, Ime Archibong, a company executive, said the suspensions of so many apps were not “necessarily an indication that these apps were posing a threat to people.” Some of the apps had not yet been rolled out, while others were suspended because they did not respond to the company’s request for information, he said.
Archibong added that Facebook had banned some apps completely, including one called myPersonality, which declined to participate in the company’s audit and had shared information with other parties with few protections around the data.
He also said Facebook had sued a South Korean data analytics company, Rankwave, in May for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.