Instagram drastically reduced access to its API last fall after concerns over security breaches through a third-party app that was found to be transmitting usernames and passwords in plain text. The protection of usernames and passwords is a valid concern, but cutting off their API so severely has made many a disgruntled developer proclaim that the newly restricted Instagram API sucks.
The API was originally very open, and it was open due to Instagram itself making it that way. Shortly after the acquisition by Facebook the API began to look very different. These latest changes have made Instagram closed off to any outside extended features or experiences that could be provided with third-party apps. All social media APIs have restrictions, but Instagram seemed to take it to a whole other level.
Here are some of the biggest contentions our developers find with Instagram’s API:
1. Third-party apps are basically dead because of the new restrictions. The API is so restrictive that you can no longer display the feed, popular, liked posts, or show followers of any user profile, to name just a few.
2. A lot of third-party apps, built by smaller companies, probably relied on this ‘partnership’ with an app like Instagram. They probably put a lot of work building something with the API that was provided to them by Instagram, but now due to the changes that has been shut down. This is pretty ruthless of them. But again…they’re one of the big guns and, if we are being real, they don’t really have to offer anything to developers. Also, Facebook is a huge company that probably doesn’t want others making money off of them without a piece of it. But there are ethical issues all the way in this situation. Why give something for public use then take it away? It’s generally not cool and everyone in the development world knows it.
3. The crazy rigorous application process to receive approval now. Not only must developers ensure that their permission requests fall under Instagram’s restrictive valid use case guidelines with detailed descriptions of the validity for each permission request, they must also submit a screencast video demonstrating how the app works, the usage of each permission requested, and the Instagram log-in process within the app. And even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be approved–even if you followed the guidelines to a T.
Instagram generally now only permits access to photo-editing apps and those that let you pull your own Instagram photos (like Tinder), as well as brand and ad management apps and tools for media and broadcasters that don’t have a public facing login. Gone are the days for once popular apps like Being, Gramfeed, Mixagram, and functionality for even bigger sites like Flipboard and IFTT.
Adam Mashaal, founder of the app Being, laments that that API culture was originally created to foster innovation between developers and tech companies. Companies would invite developers to access their data and tools to support the growth of their own companies. The big companies in turn, would often integrate many of those new features into their original platforms for an overall better user experience. But the larger corporations are big enough to stand on their own now, and often have no qualm with severing that relationship.
We would love to see Instagram return to the old API, with any security concerns fixed, of course. It’s unlikely to happen however, and it’s no sweat off their backs. Third-party apps are purely for the extension of the already popular app. They could potentially take the features that third-party apps have developed and integrate them within Instagram, but the current everyday users of the app aren’t really concerned either–it doesn’t limit or affect them much.
Changes to API access is a general problem with social media giants in general, and could happen at any time. Twitter changed its API and sent everyone in a flurry, so did Facebook. Things change with APIs all the time. Third-party apps have to update and evolve to survive. Restrictions are usually what we get, rarely do we get an expanded API to work with. So, if you are trying to build something that relies on an API from a very successful social outlet beware, they do not play nice and you are in for constant work and updates because change is inevitable.