By: Kurt Wagner
Snapchat is building a way for people to use their Snapchat accounts to connect with third-party apps. The idea, in theory, would let Snapchat users grant outside companies access to their Snapchat data to help personalize other services.
If that’s the case — and it looks like it is, based on these screenshots Mashable published — it would mean that Snap is building out the same kind of API that just got Facebook into a whole mess of trouble.
You can’t make these things up.
Mashable saw a beta version of Snapchat with a new section called “Connected Apps,” with text that reads, “These apps are connected to your Snapchat account. Choose an app to control what it has access to.”
Snapchat currently has an advertising API so people can buy ads through third-party dashboards, but it doesn’t let people use their Snapchat account on other apps, or help people connect with their Snapchat friends on other platforms.
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Facebook does, and has for years. An old version of that API, which allowed outside developers to collect data from users without their consent, is at the center of the company’s entire Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The fact that Snapchat is considering sharing some data with outsiders is interesting in general, but particularly interesting given the recent news about Facebook.
There are a lot more questions than answers about the potential product. For example, what would connecting your Snapchat account to another app actually grant that developer? Would they have access to your contact list or private Snap messages? Would Snapchat let you post back to your account from other services?
A Snap spokesperson declined to comment, and the company is likely thinking a lot about those very questions, given the current climate around privacy sharing.
Hopefully, Snapchat will learn from Facebook’s mistakes whenever it decides to roll this out.
Until now, Snap has stayed pretty far out of the spotlight when it comes to data collection and user privacy, probably because so many of the interactions on Snap are in private messages. (And many of its users are smartphone natives who may better understand what they’re handing over — or simply not care.) Snapchat doesn’t use private messaging info for ad targeting, and the company claims it does other things to protect user privacy. Its ads API doesn’t give personally identifiable information out to marketers, for example, and ad measurment results are only shared in aggregate, according to a spokesperson.
But Snap is also an advertising company — like Facebook — and it collects a lot of data about its users so it can show them relevant ads. You can read about some of that here.
The fact that it’s considering an API is also a reminder of why Facebook continues to collect this kind of stuff about its own user base, despite the issues it’s facing – if Facebook isn’t going to do it, somebody else will.