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Facebook and Instagram APIs: What Happened, What’s Affected, and What is Unmetric Doing About it?

Joseph Varghese, Co Founder and Head of Technology

Facebook has been battling a data privacy crisis for the last few weeks after it was revealed that a political data firm Cambridge Analytica had illicitly harvested personal data of users. This situation could very well be a watershed moment for Facebook’s future and lead to industry regulation on privacy and transparency. In response, Facebook has taken a number of actions this week to safeguard their user’s personal information.

Like many others, we’ve closely followed the developments on this. Unmetric is built on the public APIs of social networks to deliver intelligence and insights on owned and competitive data on brands.

Unmetric does not collect user details or any other kind of personal data. Unmetric’s suite of products is built to allow brands to monitor, analyze and report on the performance of their content on social networks and to use those insights to create better content. One thing Unmetric does not do is harvest private user data that could make a user personally identifiable.

What Happened?

As much as we had hoped to remain on the sidelines of this privacy storm, some Unmetric data has been affected as Facebook has put in place a number of actions that safeguard their user’s personal information. And in the process, affect brand data too.This is a brief timeline of what Facebook has done:

  1. Facebook has had plans since January to slowly transition its current Instagram API to the Instagram Graph API, to tackle privacy issues and provide better services to Business Accounts.
  2. However, last week, during the Spring break and without any announcement, they accelerated their plans and suddenly reduced the rate limits on the API calls from 5,000 to 200 calls per hour. They also restricted access to some personally identifiable data. Instagram gave no prior warning about this change and thousands of apps have been affected. Unmetric’s development team worked through the holidays to handle these changes quickly.
  3. Yesterday, and again, without any prior warning, Instagram deprecated the current Instagram API (originally planned to be removed in 2020), which means there is no API to get data for non-Business Accounts. For thousands of apps, this change has completely blindsided them and has caused a huge inconvenience to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of users. This leaves only the Instagram Graph API to access data for Business Accounts.

How Does This Affect Unmetric Data?

Update: See the note at the end of this blog post.

Overall we expect the impact to be limited, but that’s not to say that it will, at this time, be business as usual.

Owned Analytics

For our clients who have connected their Instagram accounts to the Unmetric platform, this continues to work without any issues. Clients will get all their Insights Reports as they do now. As the Graph API gets updated with more metrics like mentions, tags etc., we will be able to show it in Insights.

Competitive Analytics

The competitive metrics were collected via the Instagram API which has been shut down. The Unmetric development team is working around the clock to resolve this so that there is very little interruption to the service. Fortunately, some parts have already been converted to use the Graph API and the rest are being explored right now. It’s an inconvenience for our clients who expect to see uninterrupted competitive data for Instagram, but we hope and expect to have things up and running again once Instagram starts reopening access. See the note at the end of this blog post. After a weekend of non-stop work, all data now comes from the Instagram Graph API.

The not so good news for brands wanting competitive intelligence is that most comments on competitor Instagram pages will no longer be available. Instagram has determined that this is personally identifiable data and therefore will no longer be available via the Graph API.

What is Unmetric Doing About it and What is the Future?

First, Unmetric has only collected publicly available social data for brands, and has not focused on private user level data. As a result, though the Unmetric products have been affected, as long as Instagram doesn’t pull any more surprises, things should be back to normal soon for business accounts for starters and, hopefully, all brand accounts in the near future. Ensuring that there is a smooth transition with minimal impact on our clients is the number one priority in the company right now.

While this sudden change has been rough on everyone in this ecosystem, there is no doubt it is for the best in the long run. With its strong actions to protect private data, Facebook shows it is committed to restoring the trust of its users, and that is a good outcome for everyone.

We expect there to be more changes in Facebook’s Graph API over the coming months and are closely monitoring their announcements for any changes. Although we can’t predict what might change, Unmetric will continue to react immediately to any changes that affect the service provided to our clients. Our team is on this, 24/7.

Update 9th April: We have good news on the Facebook privacy API front – we’ve successfully moved on to getting data from Instagram’s Graph API. Needless to say, we had to roll up our collective sleeves this entire weekend to make this transition, but we did it!

However, shifting to the new API means it’ll be difficult to get the following data:

  • Actual Comments
  • Followee Count
  • Links within Posts, Filters, Video Thumbnails

Considering Unmetric provides branded data and does not harvest personally identifiable information, the changes have been small albeit significant.

Adweek has written a piece titled The Influencer Marketing Community Reacts to Instagram’s Sudden API Changes which quotes this update and takes viewpoints from other businesses in the social analytics space on the impact Instagram’s API decisions have had.