open source, open API

Social Networks Welcome Outside Development, But Privacy Dangers Lurk

February 16, 2009 08:02 AM
by Christopher Coats
An open door policy to programmers could make popular micro-blogging service Twitter a lot more useful, though some users have voiced concern about the privacy implications.

Developers Welcome

Thanks to an open application programming interface—the framework and data needed to create a new application or online tool—Twitter has invited third party developers to dream up the next great tool for its users.

Initially created as a micro-blogging tool that allowed users to update their community of friends about their activities in 140 character bursts, Twitter’s open system has spurred a wealth of new, novel tools.

Available to be sent from computers and cell phones alike, Twitter messages, or Tweets, can easily be changed into commands for household items or as avenues for sharing large files, such as photos, videos and music.

According to Wired, developers have dreamt up applications that alert them when their clothes have finished drying, when their plants need water, and, when connected to motion sensing equipment, when there is movement in their own home.

By opening up their API, Twitter has allowed developers to piggyback on their programming code to develop tools far more useful than simply updating friends on daily activities.

Predicted as early as 2007, the opening of social network’s APIs was seen as an excellent way to grow their user base, while encouraging innovation that they may one day adopt themselves—turning their members into their workforce.

However, the open nature of the API has caused some concern among Twitter users after cases arose of scammers accessing private information and messages through these third party applications.

In order to allow developers to make changes to the company’s API, Twitter has kept the framework relatively simple to use, but has not installed any sort of security authorization in order to avoid programming complications.

That absence, and the requirement that users hand over their log-in information to third party developers when they access a new, privately developed application, has allowed outside parties to access personal information in the past.

Efforts to combat abuse and overuse of the open API have already caused controversy, including a January announcement that access may be limited to developers to ease the stress on Twitter’s system.

The announcement by Twitter resulted in immediate charges of stifling developer’s efforts and creativity, according to CNET.

Impact: Open door policy

Any risks of invasion have not deterred other social networking services from following Twitter’s lead, as Facebook recently announced that they would open up the API for their status updates, links, notes and video sections.

In the past, Facebook has invited third party developers to create a host of applications for their social networking platform, but have made sure to keep their development data within their strict proprietary standards.

Launched in 2007, Facebook’s developer platform was called an “anti-Myspace”, allowing any user to apply, exchange and forward new applications and an “unprecedented amount of access to developers.”

This latest move toward openness is seen by some as a direct challenge to Twitter, which has seen a steady rise in use since its launch in 2006, most recently as political updating and first response reporting tool.

Last year, the first reports from a plane accident in Denver and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai came from Twitter users who sent brief updates and first-hand photos from the sites of the events before news agencies could react.

Related Topic: Apple’s third party gambit

Another company attempting to balance third party creativity with security is Apple, which witnessed a surge in development activity after it released the iPhone in 2007.

Boasting Web applications as a selling point for the iPhone, Apple soon found themselves inundated with third-party tools that could be freely exchanged between users of the popular phone.

After finding that its efforts to prevent hackers from circumventing security measures were proving ineffective, the company announced that it would not only support such development, but actually encourage it with support programs.

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