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April 13, 2018

With Privacy Changes, Instagram Upsets Influencer Economy

As the Facebook-owned platform works to lock down its privacy policy amid mounting public pressure,
some fashion apps and social media influencers are left scrambling

Less than a week before Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg donned a suit to testify before the United States Congress, influencer monetisation platform sent an email to users: “As of today, you will be able to shop Instagram content exclusively with a screenshot, as like-based shopping will no longer be supported due to changes in Facebook/Instagram’s third-party access to likes.”

It was a short message with big meaning.

The Instagram shopping service could no longer use the “likes” on influencer posts to send registered users emails with associated product information and buy buttons. It was one of the unexpected repercussions from Instagram parent company Facebook’s tightened privacy policy amid a cascade of criticism in the wake of the platform’s Cambridge Analytica data privacy debacle. An April 4 announcement from Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer entitled “An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook” mostly focused on changes to Facebook — including changes to how outside apps can access events, groups and pages — with just one sentence announcing a decision to effectively shut down Instagram’s existing application programming interface, or API.

The move means that, for example, third-parties can no longer access follower lists, relationships information, see which posts users have “liked” or receive notifications when media is posted. Analytics companies that provide follower demographics will no longer have access to Instagram data and people can no longer use “bots” to follow accounts or “like” Instagram posts.

To put it plainly, many businesses that aggregate data about influencers are dead in the water, said founder Amber Venz Box. She added that while (and parent company RewardStyle) had leveraged Facebook’s developer tools, she always knew it was possible they might change or disappear, so the company began removing its reliance on these tools in 2015 (one year after the venture was founded). A year ago, introduced a way to shop influencer content using a screenshot or directly within its app, rather than through Instagram likes. (The company reports that, last year, users purchased more than $270 million in products using this technology.)

But many influencers who have eschewed traditional blogs in favour of Instagram are still left in the lurch, says Texas-based influencer Ashley Robertson, who blogs as The Teacher Diva. “It definitely has shaken up the influencer industry, especially the people who rely on solely. They don’t have another platform to provide affiliate links or generate sales, so they are just scrambling,” she says.

Read more from Business of Fashion here