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Instagram is limiting how much data some developers can collect from its API — and cutting off others altogether

Facebook’s response to Cambridge Analytica continues with Instagram.

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Girlboss

Instagram is cutting off API access for some developers and limiting how often others can use its API to collect data on Instagram users. The move appears to be part of Facebook’s efforts to cull back data access in the wake of the company’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.

On Friday, Instagram suddenly changed the rate limit for its Platform API — essentially decreasing the number of times a developer can use the API to ping Instagram for updated information, according to conversations with multiple developers.

The rate limit for Instagram’s Platform API was 5,000 calls per hour, but was suddenly reduced to 200 calls per hour on Friday, sources say.

In other cases, Instagram cut off access to the API for some developers entirely, sources say. None of the developers we spoke with were alerted to the changes before they happened.

What the rate limit update means, in plain English, is that developers can pull data from Instagram much less often than they were allowed to before. For some industries that rely on near-constant access to Instagram data — industries like customer service or brand marketing — these limits can make it difficult to keep up with customer complaints or posts, developers said.

It can also limit the total volume of information that outsiders have access to. If developers need to be pickier about what data calls they make, they might stop collecting data on topics or users they don’t necessarily need simply because they can, developers said.

We don’t know Instagram’s motives for certain, though. The company declined to comment, or to confirm that any changes were made.

But multiple developers pointed out the change on Twitter, and Recode was also directed to a conversation on Stack Overflow, a Q&A site for developers. TechCrunch first reported on the API changes.

While developers might not be happy with the unexpected change, it makes sense. Facebook — and apparently Instagram — is looking hard at all of the ways the two services share data with outsiders as part of the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal that rocked the company last month.

Instagram has already said that it was planning to scale back its Platform API, just not this early. The company originally told developers it would start to sunset features of the API beginning this summer, and to move everyone over to a more limited API by “early 2020.”

It looks like the Cambridge Analytica situation, in which an outside data firm got hold of the personal Facebook data of some 50 million people without their consent, may be speeding up Instagram’s original plan.

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