Snap’s recent app redesign may have slowed its growth, but that hasn’t stopped the company from trying to entice people to use Snapchat in new ways. Its latest move is designed to keep you using Snapchat even when you’re not in the Snapchat app.
Snap just announced a platform for third-party app developers, called Snap Kit, that lets other apps used Snapchat features, including stickers and Bitmoji. It also turns Snap into an authentication tool app makers can embed in their own apps to let people easily log in—similar to the way many apps let you use your Facebook username and password to gain entry.
This newfound access for third-party developers comes at a time when data privacy is top of mind for some consumers as well as legislators, and Snap is going to great lengths in its outreach around Snap Kit to assure people the platform is airtight. News about Snap Kit was leaked last month; today’s release makes it official.
Snap has four new software kits for third-party app makers to use: Creative Kit, Login Kit, Bitmoji Kit, and Story Kit. Most of these control features that will live on third-party apps, though some, like Creative Kit, will ultimately bring users back into the Snapchat app (i.e., bringing filters and stickers into Snap’s camera screen). Bitmoji Kit means those stickers can live in other apps—think Bitmoji in Tinder, which is one of Snap’s launch partners—and Story Kit will turn Stories into embeddable pieces of content that can live on other websites. Snap declined to say whether it was using OAuth, a well-known open standard for authentication, as part of its Login Kit, but it sounds like the workflow for using it across other apps will be similar.
In addition to Tinder, apps like Giphy, Pandora, Patreon, Postmates, and SoundHound are included in Snap Kit’s initial launch. For now, Snap says, people from its trust and safety and customer operations teams will be approving all third-party app access, and indicated it could stay that way until the company figures out how to automate the approval process. The company says that if those teams have any concerns about an app’s “security or intentions,” it won’t get approved. 1
Naturally, opening up Snap’s platform to third-party app developers raises questions about exactly how much user data those outside app makers are going to be able to access. Snap says that only display names and Bitmoji avatars are shared when people use Snapchat as a login method, and that additional “user-identifiable information, such as demographic information or friends list,” are not shared with devs.
“Under no circumstance do we allow anyone to ask for your friends list or contacts directly,” says Katherine Tassi, Snap’s deputy general counsel. “[Mobile] platforms do give developers the ability to ask for contacts, but that will be on their own.” Tassi added that third-party developers also won’t be able to see people’s messaging activity—though there is anonymized, aggregated usage data shared between Snap and the developer.
In a proactive move against old third-party apps keeping their hooks in your Snapchat account even after you’ve stopped using them, Snap will disconnect third-party apps by default if you haven’t used them in 90 days. Also, Snap says it will not use any data for ad targeting purposes.
Jacob Andreou, Snap’s vice president of product, says Snap’s app platform has been in progress in some form or another for a few years. That means Snap has had plenty of time to react to the serious privacy concerns that have recently popped up around social networks and data-sharing. However, Snap insists it’s always had privacy in mind, and shot down the notion that its newest bullet points around privacy and security are any kind of adjustment on the heels of the Facebook’s recent fumbles.
“We definitely followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal really closely and carefully, as we do all such events in this space as they impact us,” says Tassi. “But our approach to privacy and our principles are firmly embedded in the way we design products, and the way we’ve been developing this toolkit has had that approach all along.” (Snap CEO Evan Spiegel could certainly be described as more reactionary last month, when he jabbed at Facebook directly during an onstage interview at Code Conference last month.)
Tassi and Andreou also said that any precautionary elements of its new software development kit are unrelated to an embarrassing privacy snafu that happened in late 2013, when an anonymous group of hackers were able to reverse-engineer Snapchat’s Android app and retrieve 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers from Snapchat’s servers. The following year, the company had to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that its “disappearing messages” claim wasn’t accurate. In other words, Snap has previously assured users that their data was being kept secure, when in some ways, it really wasn’t.
“For people like me who follow privacy developments, it’s going to be pretty hard to rebuild our trust, technically or through commitments they may make” around its new developer platform, says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist and director of the Internet Architecture Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “But for most users, I’m not sure they associate Snap with the checkered privacy and security past it has.”
It may just depend on how much people want to use their Bitmoji in other apps, or publicly share their Snapchat Stories to other apps; or how easy Snap makes it to use Snapchat as an authentication tool. As history has shown, consumers sure do offer up a lot of data in exchange for convenience and a little bit of digital fun.
1Update, June 14: An earlier version of this article indicated that access for third-party app makers would be invite-only. The article has been updated to reflect that Snap Kit is open to all developers, though there will be an approval process in place.