Yesterday’s news that WhatsApp was going to start sharing user data with Facebook reminded me of the worry I felt a few months back in the lead up to Facebook’s launch of its Messenger platform.
At the time we were in “peak bot”. Folks were saying chat apps were the new browsers, bots the new websites, and that we were at the beginning of a new internet. And I —one of the roughly 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who is not a Facebook user — was afraid Facebook successfully opening up Messenger to developers would force me to ignore my privacy concerns around Facebook and signup, or risk missing out on a new and thriving billion person platform.
The problem is developing for Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Line, WeChat, and the like, risks not only your privacy as a developer — because you have to have an account with the service in order to develop for it — but your users’ privacy as well. When you develop on a platform that tracks users and sells their personal data, you’re saying that’s okay. You’re complicit in supporting a business model where the people are the product.
My worries proved to be unfounded. The launch of the Messenger platform went… less than great. “The slowest way to use the internet.” “Frustrating and useless.” “Dreaded return of DOS prompts.” But I knew that, if Facebook was eventually the first to create a thriving chat marketplace in the U.S., there was still a chance I’d eventually be faced with the faustian bargain of privacy or platform.
Which is why, a couple of months ago at WWDC, when Apple officially announced the iMessage app platform, I did something I’d never done before — immediately installed the iOS 10 beta on my primary iPhone, bugs be damned, and got to work.
With the iMessage platform, we’ll get access to an estimated 750+ million highly active daily users, no compromises necessary. Pundits have chided Apple’s focus on privacy as outdated, but it’s situations like this where the long game pays off.
The web of 2016 has felt a little bleak. It’s started to feel like accessing the internet and maintaining some semblance of privacy are mutually exclusive. And while they don’t often get credit for it, Apple is doing everything they can to push back. To say privacy, while connecting with friends and family, is still possible. To say you shouldn’t have to agree to better targeted ads just to share a photo.
With iMessage, Apple has quietly built the world’s largest private social network, and next month they’ll be opening it up in a way that won’t sacrifice their users or the ideals of the developers who will build on top of it. And to me, and I’d bet a lot of other people, that’s a big deal and an exciting opportunity.