Snapchat Policies Not Enforced for Anonymous Apps/Friend Finders - TechCrunch

Snapchat Policies Not Enforced for Anonymous Apps/Friend Finders – TechCrunch

A few Snap Kit developers have yet to comply with the new guidelines around anonymous messaging apps and friend search that were announced in March. The maker of Snapchat renewed its developer platform policies on March 17, 2022, to ban anonymous apps and require developers to create apps to find friends to limit access to users 18 or older. The policy changes took effect immediately and existing developers were given 30 days to comply – a date that could have passed last month.

We’ve now found the middle of May, and some newly banned and restricted app developers don’t meet the new Snap requirements.

Snap says that only a small number of developers have asked to be given extra time to make the apps compatible, as they have worked in good faith to make the necessary changes. But it can be hard for consumers to know which apps are compatible, which are avoiding the new rules and which are marketing Snap Kit integrations that they don’t actually have.

For example, one app that offered an extension was Sendit, an anonymous Q&A app that rose to the top of the App Store last year after Snap suspended other anonymous Q&A apps, YOLO and LMK. These last two apps have been banned from Snap after the company was sued by the mother of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied with these tools. This year, Snap was named in a second lawsuit, along with Meta, relating to an alleged lack of safeguards across social media platforms that a mother says contributed to the suicide of her 11-year-old daughter.

Snap has since conducted a review of its platform policies focusing on potential child safety issues related to third-party apps that integrate with Snapchat features and functionality.

This culminated in new policies introduced in March that affect apps built using the Snap Kit platform. This developer toolkit allows third-party apps to offer Snapchat login for user verification, or use Snapchat features like Snap’s Camera, Bitmoji, Stories, and more.

As Snap announced its new policies, it said the changes would affect a small subset of more than 1,500 developers in its broader community. Snap said about 2% will be affected by the ban on anonymous messaging apps, and another 3% will be affected by new requirements for age-gate friend-finding apps.

Sendit appears to be incompatible because it wasn’t using a required feature, as specified in Snap’s developer documentation.

Here, Snap provided an example of how something called “Identity Web View” has been adopted by third-party developers who are using the Snap Kit today to build anonymous Q&A apps. This feature will allow anonymous Q&A apps to comply with the new policies because it requires apps to provide a new form for users that they must click to submit the Bitmoji avatar URL and shortened display name to the third-party app. Then, they can use the third-party app to post their questions – but no longer anonymous. Essentially, it allows Q&A apps to continue to function exactly the same way as before, but without the potential risks of anonymous bullying – user-identified.

However, Sendit does not currently use this form even though it is the example shown in the developer’s documentation screenshot. But Snap says the developer has requested more time to make these changes, which has been granted. Snap thinks the app, which currently ranks eighth in the Lifestyle section on the App Store, will soon stick.

Image credits: Snap, via Snapchat developer documentation

It also appears that other third-party apps are still working as usual, and at first glance it appears they are not complying with the new Snap policies.

Apps that circumvent the rules – or work outside of them?

But this is where things get more complicated – some apps have been given an extension, some are geared around Snap rules and some are marketing themselves as Snapchat-connected apps when they aren’t already using the SDK.

For example, the application LMK – for clarity, a file Different LMK From the original LMK app that was banned last year – it still offers an “anonymous surveys” app that integrates with Snapchat features. The app is rated +12 in the App Store and works as usual. But LMK was among those who requested and received an extension.

The anonymous messaging apps HMU, rated 9+ on the App Store, and Intext, rated 4+, still work, too. Both advertise themselves as Snapchat-connected apps. But Intext is blocked by Snap – you’ll get an error if you try to authenticate with Snapchat using the “Sign in with Snapchat” button in the app.

HMU appears to have bypassed the ban, as its app was running until some time yesterday when it was blocked.

Meanwhile, a number of friend-finding apps like Hoop, Wink, Swipr, Purp, and Dope — all of which are supposed to be available only to adult users — are still on the App Store with an age rating of 12+, at the time of writing. If Snap checks and approves it, it will have the highest age rating on the App Store, which is 17+. (Apple should change this to 18+!)

Confusingly, lower age ratings for these apps don’t necessarily mean that all apps violate Snap’s policies. As it turns out, some of these apps are simply centering themselves as connected to Snapchat in their marketing materials – such as their App Store screenshots. But in reality, they are working around their lack of access to Snap’s SDK in other ways.

For example, the Hoop App Store page says it’s for making friends on Snapchat, however it’s downloadable for anyone 12 or older. If it was an app for the Snap Kit platform, that would be a contravention. But Hoop is not violated because it no longer uses the SDK. (But who can tell?!)

Image credits: hoop

Instead, Hoop enters users for their Snapchat username during setup and provides an in-app Snapchat button to “ask” their username to be shared with you. It’s a workaround that allows the app to continue serving as a tool for finding friends on Snapchat, but allows the app to work without relying on developer access to the SDK. But this kind of evasiveness on developer parts could cause complications for Snap in the future, as it faces potential litigation and regulations related to the integrity of the platform.

Comment requests are not returned to the third-party app makers themselves.

For parents, this lack of consistency across the Snapchat app ecosystem also means they can’t count on using built-in parental controls from Apple or Google to prevent Snapchat friend finder apps from being downloaded onto their children’s device or younger teens. Once in the hands of younger users, bypassing the age gate is as simple as using a fake birthdate.

Snap tells us that since it announced the new policies, it has removed the vast majority of apps that were not in compliance with its policies.

It explodes, said Alston Cheek, director of Platform Partnerships at Platform Partnerships in Snap. “We believe we can take this stance on safety because the growing and vibrant developer community also expects us to do so; it is in their interest that our platform innovates the future of augmented reality, delights our community, and helps developers grow their businesses as we build the platforms of the future based on trust and security.”

But given how much apps get around the rules, it might be more useful if the same app stores incorporate these same guidelines into their app reviews. Or perhaps this is all a sign that regulation is, in fact, necessary to protect children and teens from accessing experiences that may be harmful or designed for adults.

After all, Snapchat shares the top charts with other apps that cater to its younger, often teenage user base — and the rules that apply to them, should apply to anyone.

For example, one of the apps that eats into the Gen Z market is the newer app called BeReal, which prompts users for automatic photos. BeReal has now surpassed 10 million cumulative downloads to date, according to estimates from app intelligence firm (formerly App Annie). The company said 3.3 million downloads were made in the first quarter alone, and that the majority of users in key markets are Gen Z.

Another app, LiveIn, also caters to Generation Z by allowing users to post photos to each other’s home screens via a widget – a feature also adopted from BeReal. It is now No. 2 on the US App Store’s Best Apps chart, while its competitor Locket Widget is No. 24.

These apps offer experiences that not only cater to Snapchat’s core demographics, but also offer features that in some ways overlap with what Snapchat is used for — fun, unfamiliar images that aren’t meant to be wrapped around. While Snapchat is still growing, its competitors can expand their own platforms to adopt more Snapchat-like features over time, at which point it can also become a cause for concern if they venture into anonymous quests or friend-finding spaces.

However, right now, these apps represent a different kind of threat: a threat that could see Snapchat lose its users’ time and engagement while trying out new ways to connect with friends.

Update 5/17/22 4:15PM ET: Updated to note that HMU worked as of yesterday when we tested it. It has since been banned.

2022-05-17 14:38:32

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