Snapchat is opening its platform to outside software developers in a push for growth that could also test its commitment to privacy.
Starting Thursday, the
chat platform will allow developers to add features and integrate outside apps, which Snap Inc. hopes will draw more users. The move comes in the wake of revelations over the past year that Snap’s larger rival
shared data about its users more widely than they understood, in part through apps created by outside developers.
Those disclosures have spurred a reckoning in the tech industry about how companies share what they know about their users. In response to some of these concerns, Facebook has taken a number of steps to limit the amount of data shared with outside developers.
Snap’s developer platform shares just a sliver of the information that Facebook shares with developers and was built with privacy in mind, Snap says. But under pressure to prove that it can attract more users, the company is opening access slightly. Snap’s userbase in the most recent quarter grew just 2.14%, down from double-digit growth two years ago.
“The key for us is finding ways to take things that make Snap special and bringing them to more people and applications,” said
vice president of product at Snapchat.
While Snap says only one portion of the developer platform shares information with third-parties—the display name people set for Snapchat, should they choose to share it, along with the option of including their bitmoji avatars—opening up the system increases the risk that information could end up in the wrong hands.
Snap’s track record with protecting user security isn’t flawless. In 2014, unauthorized third-party developers built apps that tricked Snap’s servers into sharing information, letting users secretly save Snaps.
“We learned a lot from that experience,” said
deputy general counsel for Snap. “It was an important reminder of the security threat that third-party apps can pose to our community.”
Ms. Tassi said the 2014 incident is one reason why Snap will bring other apps on board only after they go through a human review and approval process so that Snap can reject any apps that want to misuse Snapchat or store user credentials.
With the developer platform, Snap is taking measures Facebook initially neglected: Snap won’t share any information about its users’ friends, and Snap will automatically disconnect an app if the user hasn’t logged onto the app that they signed into with Snapchat in more than 90 days.
Write to Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.com