German Facebook clone StudiVZ adds support for 3rd party apps – user privacy is paramount

vz-netzwerke[Germany] Two and a half years after Facebook, its German clone StudiVZ follows the US social network’s most successful move by adding support for third-party applications.

The 15.7m users of StudiVZ and its siblings MeinVZ and SchülerVZ can now play games from Plinga or Wooga, sing online Karaoke with Mikestar or order Italian food from After 12 months of engineering and a trial with a music video app since October, nine apps are available as of Monday and several hundreds are in the making. The next step will be the implementation of a payment system in early next year, so that users can fork out money for in-game goods, pay for pizzas or make charity donations to the fund raising portal Spendino.

The new StudiVZ apps are based on Google’s OpenSocial set of APIs. So theoretically they could also run on other networks that support the standard, like MySpace, Friendster or LinkedIn. But in practice every platform has different requirements, says Wooga founder Jens Begemann, and needs its own version of each app. That’s why his company, which he founded in January, concentrates exclusively on the VZ networks and on Facebook. Wooga’s first social game, Brain Buddies, is free but they plan to release four games per year and will charge for virtual goods in games. The company behind StudiVZ,  VZ-Netzwerke, will take 30 per cent of every app’s sales or advertising revenue.

Playing Wooga's Brain Buddies on StudiVZ.

Playing Wooga's Brain Buddies on StudiVZ.

CEO Markus Berger-de León has applied tight security policies to third-party apps to avoid the type of scams that TechCrunch recently dug up on Facebook and MySpace. Not only because he needs to regain confidence after all three of the company’s social networks got hacked and were subsequently blackmailed in October with the intruder finally committing suicide in jail. But also because the German online privacy laws are among the strictest in the world, even Google Analytics is in danger of being banned in our country. “Most Facebook apps are basically illegal under German law”, says Berger-de León, because they pass too much private data to third parties without the users’ consent.

To address this, VZ-Netzwerke works with so-called “business cards”: For every app, users have to complete a form with the information they want to share. False names and incomplete data are also possible. This is contrast with the approach that other social networks take where all apps are given access to profile data, photos and buddy-lists etc. Most users will probably only work with two or three business cards, depending on their desired degree of anonymity. Every app gets thoroughly reviewed before approval and 3rd party ad networks are forbidden. All advertising sales are handled by VZ-Netzwerke, with revenue shared with the app providers. This obviously helps VZ-Netzwerke generate additional revenue but it also avoids scammy ads that trick users with private photos or personal information to make them look like messages from friends, says Berger-de León.

Users can share their own data with an app, not that of their friends. For app providers it’s also impossible to converge a user’s data from one app to another into a unified profile. When an app gets uninstalled, the provider loses all the user’s data. And finally, the social network regularly erases all app user data. After 24 hours the app provider has to re-download the user’s data from VZ-Netzwerke’s servers.