We recently ventured into new territory. We launched an app for a member of parliament (MP). You might have heard about it. It’s the Matt Hancock MP app. Matt is the recently-appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, so as you might assume, the app got some attention.

It’s been a surprise to many as we’ve previously worked with bands and other content publishers trying to promote their creativity. But the idea of taking control of your own online community is not the exclusive preserve of creators, bands and celebrities. This project fits exactly with our wider mission to give any community the control to build a closer, more engaged relationship with their audience – the core reason Matt Hancock wanted to work with us.

We’ve been delighted with the enthusiastic response. Clearly, a lot of people get it and are having fun with it. Little did we know the app would be discussed in the House of Commons, on national television and have Mr Stephen Fry as a member within 24 hours.

We’ve also had plenty of feedback about how the app is working, and are today updating the app as is usual with any software product. Here are 4 key areas we’ve focused on:

1. Matt Hancock does not want to access your photos

Last year Apple updated and improved the handling of privacy relating to photos with the release of iOS 11. This update allows apps to seamlessly provide access to the Photos app, whilst only giving access to the photo or video that you as a user choose to post. Importantly it doesn’t allow access to a full photo library.

This update is an improvement on iOS 10 where access is given between an app and your whole photo library: this ‘two way’ permissions approach is also necessary in Android, which is why iOS 10 and Android provide an alert requesting your permission to allow this between apps. Hence the somewhat misleading ‘Matt Hancock wants access to your Photos’. Because he really doesn’t.

We develop to the latest Apple standards and hence supported the iOS 11 photo picker feature. Where we’ve confused people unfortunately in that we didn’t take out the iOS 10 alert that suggested the user would need to give access to all of their photos, which is confusing for anyone unfamiliar with the feature especially if they decline access and then find themselves able to upload a photo.

Today we’re taking this alert out. Please be assured that when using iOS 11, your privacy is fully intact in line with Apple’s approach to handling photos. Put simply, with iOS 11, Matt Hancock does not have access to all your photos unless you’ve explicitly given permission and this doesn’t need you to grant access for the app to function.

If you’re still using iOS 10, you’ll continue to see the relevant alert to confirm your permission.

2. Data & privacy concerns

The first point for context is that Disciple is not a social media network.

We are in the process of moving from an app-building business to a software-as-a-service platform, where our customers can in-effect launch and manage their own social-media-like platforms on their own terms. Communities are our customers; they are not our products to be harvested for data as they are on existing social media platforms.

This means that Disciple, as a platform, by nature and design will not set platform-wide

Privacy Policies for all ‘users’. The key point is that our customers (the community hosts) have the freedom and control to create an environment that works for them and the needs of their community – and their Privacy Policy should reflect these needs.

With that in mind, the first thing to say is that the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy originally included in Matt’s app at launch comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 which governs the law in this area. But the Privacy Policy we linked to was more relevant to a commercial enterprise than an MP, as a number of people pointed out.

Evidently, different communities will have different needs. A musician or social media star using Disciple as a subscription-based mobile fanclub, will have very different needs to a corporation wanting to create an internal-communications platform, which is in turn very different to an MP who wants to engage with his or her constituents.

So we’ve updated the Privacy Policy relating to the use of data within Matt’s app. We trust this Policy provides peace of mind for anyone thinking their data was going to be used for commercial purposes. It’s not, and the policy now makes this clear. We believe this policy will serve as a useful template for any public figures who don’t wish to collect any data beyond that required for basic confirmation of identity.

What does that mean ahead of GDPR? Broadly speaking, as a platform we need to be compliant as a Data Processor, while each of our customers needs to be compliant as a Data Controller.

The Disciple platform as a Data Processor is evolving in line with GDPR guidance, and the Privacy Policy relating to Matt’s use of the platform now complies with GDPR ahead of the law coming into effect on May 25th 2018.

There’s more we’re planning to develop to help our customers in their responsibilities as Data Controllers and to help their users have more control of their data. We’ll continue to focus on this as a key pillar of the Disciple platform.

3. Everything in moderation

If you’ll excuse the repetition, Disciple is not a social media network – we are a software-as-a-service company that provides the tools for community hosts to service the particular needs of their community.

This means that Disciple, as a platform, by nature and design will not define a platform-wide moderation policy for all communities. The very point is that our customers have the freedom and control to create an environment that works for them – and their moderation policy should reflect that. And all communities are different.

As community host, Matt Hancock wants to create a safe, positive and trusted space to engage his constituents. His reactive moderation policy was clear in that it wouldn’t tolerate trolling and abuse; and where guidelines have been broken content has been removed and accounts have been removed.

It takes time for a community to establish its own rules, frameworks and culture; and whether the memes and off-topic conversation will continue at the same volume remains to be seen but we expect it will change and evolve over time. For example, we’ve helped identify constituents with a green tick – so they will receive more attention and focus than guests who may be more interested in Matt’s parliamentary role. Equally the discussions in the ‘national’ section may be bound by different moderation rules than those in the ‘constituency’ section.

But back to the central point, it’s up to Matt Hancock and his primary audience of constituents to decide where they want to take it. We are here to create the very best vehicle to support them.

4. We would like your help to get better

We’re delighted that the Matt Hancock MP app has caught the imagination and sparked both some hilarious community content and also some serious debate. Its core purpose is to help Matt Hancock engage and understand the needs of his constituency and we welcome feedback on how to develop the platform to better achieve this. We will keep improving the platform on a daily basis and regularly update Matt’s app as new features are released.

As I mentioned earlier we are opening up Disciple as a software-as-a-service business and we’re learning all the time. However, although our operating and business model is changing, our values remain the same. We don’t sell users’ data to advertisers or share that information outside of our relationship with each community host. We have never seen the value in doing so, even though our Terms and Policies gave us the opportunity to do so. Our most successful partnerships to date have been where a simple subscription is employed or the host covers the costs.

We value our community hosts as our customers, and their communities are not our product to commercialise directly or indirectly. We believe this represents a compelling addition (or indeed alternative) to the mainstream social media platforms, where your content and your engagement with your community is monetised through advertising and other forms of data mining in return for the reach they offer.

We’re a young British company with lots to learn and a lot of work still to do. With the support of people like Matt, we will continue to build and develop our service to help anyone establish trusted, valuable, direct relationships with their community.