Pando

The era of third-party apps is ending, as security risks prompt WhatsApp and Snapchat to shut down their APIs

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 22, 2015

From The News Desk

An era is ending.

There was a time when many tech companies would allow outside developers to make applications based on a larger service. Developers rushed at the opportunity and made independent apps for Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and other social tools. But, over the last few years, these companies have stopped supporting this software.

Twitter was among the first to clamp down on that independent software. The company announced in 2012 that it would limit the number of users an application modeled after its official software -- which meant the majority of consumer-focused Twitter software -- in an effort to bring more consumers onto the apps it owned and therefore had complete control over.

That decision has led to mixed results. Some third-party applications have survived the rule change; others haven't. But the end result is still a significant decrease in the size of the Twitter app ecosystem, which is exactly what the company wanted when it decided to try to shutdown an entire product category to popularize its own, arguably inferior software.

Snapchat and WhatsApp, however, have different goals when it comes to third party apps. Neither company seemed to care all that much about third-party applications until recently, when software made by independent developers is thought to have made these services less secure. That's led them to shut down their APIs or send cease-and-desist letters to kill indie devs' products.

The most high-profile example of this risk came in the form of the "Snappening," which saw many images thought to have been taken with Snapchat released to the public in October 2014. The images weren't taken from Snapchat directly -- they were (allegedly) leaked from an application built to allow the service's users to save its "temporary" images.

Whether it's because of a desire to exert more control over a service, or a need to keep that service's users safe from the security risks posed by third-party applications, the result is a closed-off services ecosystem which doesn't support independent developers as much as many expected when smartphones and APIs first arose.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]