When you log in to a politician’s Facebook app, the campaign enjoys relatively easy access to your friends on the social network. But starting next year, that automatic access will go away. That may provide users with some relief from unwanted messages. It will certainly help Facebook respond to complaints that it shares too much of its users’ information without their consent. But it also could lead to more campaigns advertising on the platform, which is good for the company’s bottom line. President Obama’s 2012 campaign used Facebook to create a list of 1 million people; users who signed into its website via Facebook used the campaign’s custom app to do so. They were then asked to authorize the campaign to access information about all of their Facebook friends. When granted, the campaign could compare those users with existing voter files in order to help better define the voters it needed to reach. Now many political campaigns have their own Facebook apps, not just pages.
The change, which was detailed on Facebook’s site for web developers in April, means that beginning next May users of a campaign’s app will have to explicitly authorize access to their friends. But even when they do, the campaign will only see those friends who have also signed into the campaign’s app. Additionally, Facebook users will be able to log in to apps anonymously (they would still be logged into Facebook, but the app would not have access to any specific user information). Those options will limit the scope of people to whom campaigns will have automatic access, although it still gives political operatives a way to gain access to the broader list of Facebook friends. It will just take more work and money.
Jon Ward of Yahoo News described the change as “closing the door on one of the most sophisticated social targeting efforts ever undertaken.” That’s true, in the sense that campaigns won’t be able to do exactly what the Obama campaign did when its supporters signed up for its Facebook app.