Facebook Sees Increase In Parse Signups, Tells Developers “No Plans To Change How App Data Is Used”

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From Idea To Development, A Few Hours In At The TechCrunch Disrupt NY Hackathon

Despite developers grumbling that they would ditch Parse’s mobile app backend service now that it’s been bought by Facebook, Parse CEO Ilya Suhkar tells me signups spiked 9.4x and fewer clients are leaving than before. Meanwhile, to calm fears about Facebook spying on Parse developer data, the company issued the statement “We currently have no plans to make any changes to how Parse app data is used.”

The acquisition marks Facebook’s entry into the paid B2B app development services business. However, the acquisition came as a bit of a shock to loyal developers who built over 60,000 apps on Parse’s mobile backend as a service (MBaaS). Complaints I’ve seen centered around Facebook degrading the Parse service, pushing its own social integrations and ad platform too hard, questions about who owns app data hosted on Parse due to language in Facebook’s terms of service, privacy of that app data, and worries about how Facebook might use access to that data for its own benefit.

Many developers claimed they would be moving to other MBaaS platforms. And one competitor, StackMob, built a special importer tool that Parse developers can use to export their app records and import them into these other services. These developers seem to be barking louder than they’re biting, though. Sukhar tells me, “The difference isn’t even statistically significant but, in absolute terms, the number of records exported per day since acquisition announcement is lower than before. Nobody’s using this tool and there is no overall exodus.”

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I asked Facebook about the concerns above, and after talking for a while I came away more confident that much of the paranoia about the acquisition is unfounded.

Facebook understands that developers are finicky. The social network already has a spotty record in terms of platform stability. In the past, changes have come hard and fast without enough warning, sometimes causing apps to break. Other times, Facebook’s design or feed changes can crater the traction of apps built on it. Over the last year or so, Facebook has made a serious effort to become more developer-friendly, and are determined not to screw up Parse.

As far as ownership and privacy of data on the Parse platform, some developers may be confusing language in Facebook’s user-facing terms of service, aka the Statement Of Rights And Responsibilities, with its developer-facing Platform Policy. Facebook maintains that it can employ user data to improve its product or target ads, but doesn’t use third-party app data the same way. It seems Facebook’s intention is to run Parse similarly to how it works with apps on its canvas app platform. Essentially, it won’t be prying into private data or using it to inspire its own product development.

Of course Facebook’s “currently have no plans” statement could change in the future. And despite all its mission statements and talk, it’s still a business. But I think Parse can be a powerful tool for Facebook, and even its answer to iOS and Android in some ways, without doing anything too shady. Parse will create a distribution vector for Facebook’s identity and sharing integrations as well as a way to sell ads, but that can be accomplished without being too interruptive to the Parse experience. Scrutiny will be high, though, so Facebook needs to hold true to its word if it wants Parse’s valuable client base to stick around.