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Snapchat logo
Original author(s) Snapchat, Inc.
  • Evan Spiegel
  • Reggie Brown
  • Bobby Murphy
Initial release September 2011[2]
Stable release 7.1.0
Development status Active
Operating system iOS, Android
Platform iOS, Android
Size 6.6 MB
Available in English, Hindi
Type Photo sharing, social networking service
License Proprietary software
Alexa rank Decrease 8100[3]
Website .comsnapchat

Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown,[4] then Stanford University students.[5][6][7] Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of April 2014, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds),[8] after which they will be hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.

According to Snapchat in May 2014, the app's users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. In late August 2014, the company was valued at US$10 billion.


Snapchat was started by Brown and Spiegel as a project for one of Spiegel's classes at Stanford University, where Spiegel was a product design major. Beginning under the name "Picaboo," the two later brought Murphy into the project to code the application. When Spiegel floated the idea in April 2011 in front of the product design class for his final project, classmates balked at the idea of the impermanent photos.[9] Snapchat first launched in July 2011 under the name Picaboo in Spiegel's father's living room, though the application was later renamed and relaunched under the name Snapchat.[9][10][11]

Early on, the Snapchat team focused on usability and technical aspects rather than branding efforts.[9] The app's mascot is called "Ghostface Chillah", a name Brown derived from Ghostface Killah of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.[9]

In May 2012, 25 images were being sent per second[12] and, as of November 28, 2012, users had shared over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app, with 20 million photos being shared per day.[12][13] In November 2012, Spiegel cited problems with scaling, as the userbase increased, as the reason for why Snapchat was experiencing difficulties with delivering images in real time.[12]

Snapchat was released on Android on November 29, 2012.[12]

Snapchat raised US$485,000 in its seed round and an undisclosed amount of bridge funding from Lightspeed Ventures.[12] In June 2013, Snapchat raised $60 million in a funding round led by venture-capital firm Institutional Venture Partners.[14] The firm also appointed a new high-profile board member Michael Lynton of Sony's American division.[15]

Also in June 2013, Snapchat introduced Snapkidz for users under 13 years of age. Snapkidz is part of the original Snapchat application and is activated when the user provides a date of birth to verify his/her age. Snapkidz allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but they cannot send snaps to other users and can only save snaps locally on the device being used.[16]

In June 2013, Snapchat version 5.0, dubbed "Banquo", was released for iOS. The updated version introduced several speed and design enhancements, including swipe navigation, double-tap to reply, an improved friend finder, and in-app profiles.[17] The same changes were then carried over to Android devices in July 2013.

The company revealed in a blog post on October 14, 2013 that it complies with the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by handing over images not yet seen by its users to American law enforcement agencies. Snapchat director of operations Micah Schaffer explained: "Since May 2013, about a dozen of the search warrants we’ve received have resulted in us producing unopened snaps to law enforcement."[18]

Snapchat revealed in February 2013 that its users were sending 60 million messages daily, and this figure significantly increased to 400 million photo messages per day in November 2013. Then, as part of the company's May 2014 announcement of updated features—related to video chatting and text messaging—Snapchat stated that its users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. All of the data released since Snapchat's inception has been based on information collected solely by the company, while, as of May 2014, the company has refused to disclose the total number of active monthly Snapchat users.[19]

In June 2014, the company claimed that its Stories feature had surpassed Snaps, with over one billion viewed per day, which represented a doubling of the daily views tallied in April 2014.[20] On September 9, 2014, Snapchat's owners announced that they had settled the lawsuit filed by fellow student and former friend Reggie Brown for an undisclosed amount. As part of the settlement, they credited Brown with the idea of Snapchat.[21]

Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, negotiated a financial agreement with Snapchat in August 2014, at a time when the company was valued at US$10 billion, with 100 million monthly active users. Prior to the amount raised with Kleiner Perkins, the company had already raised US$163 million in funding.[22]

Snapchat's first paid advertisement, in the form of a 20-second movie trailer for the horror film Ouija, was shown to users on October 19, 2014. In addition to acknowledging Snapchat's need for a revenue stream, the company's blog explained: "We want to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted."[23]


During the viewing period, the recipient must maintain contact with the device's touchscreen, thereby hindering the user's ability to take a screenshot, which is allowed. The sender is also notified by Snapchat if a recipient takes a screenshot.[9][12] However, it is possible for the user to bypass this mechanism by, for example, taking a picture of the phone with another camera, or by disabling the notification function through a modification of the Snapchat binary; furthermore, running the Snapchat application in an emulator will bypass all restrictions. After the set time expires, the image is deleted from the devices and the company's servers.[1] On May 9, 2013, Snapchat's blog responded to the speculation regarding the retrieval of its app's images:

If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted. So… you know… keep that in mind before putting any state secrets in your selfies :)[24]

Spiegel explained that Snapchat is intended to counteract the trend of users being compelled to manage an idealized online identity of themselves, which he says has "taken all of the fun out of communicating".[9] Snapchat can locate a user's friends through the user's smartphone contact list. Research conducted in the UK has shown that, as of June 2013, half of all 18 to 30-year-old respondents (47 percent) have received nude pictures, while 67 percent had received images of "inappropriate poses or gestures".[25]

Snapchat launched the "Snapchat Stories" feature in early October 2013 and released corresponding video advertisements with the tagline "It's about time." The feature allows users to create links of shared content that can be viewed an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period. The "stories" are simultaneously shared with the user's friends and content remains for 24 hours before disappearing.[26]

On May 1, 2014, new messaging and video chat features were added to Snapchat. The new messaging features, which allow users to send text to other users and save text messages by clicking on them,[27] were described by Spiegel as "conversational," rather than "transactional," as he sought to replicate the conversations he engaged in with friends. A frequent user of instant messaging applications in high school, Spiegel stated that he did not experience conversational interactions while using the products of competitors like iMessage. By default, messages disappear after they are read and a notification is only sent to the recipient at the start of a conversation.[28]

A crucial aspect of the May 2014 update is the "Here" sign that can subtly appear at any moment as a blue bubble in your chat window. The bubble pulsates softly to inform a user that a friend is also available to engage in a video chat—video chatting can only occur between users who are concurrently using the app. When the Here button is held down, a video chat function is immediately launched. Regarding the Here function, Spiegel explained: "The accepted notion of an online indicator that every chat service has is really a negative indicator. It means ‘my friend is available and doesn’t want to talk to you,’ versus this idea in Snapchat where ‘my friend is here and is giving you their full attention.’" Spiegel further claims that the Here function prevents the awkwardness that can arise with apps that use typing indicators, as conversations lose their fluidity, as each user tries to avoid typing at the same time as the recipient. As of May 1, Snapchat sends a push notification to the user's lock screen as an indicator that a friend has begun typing a message, as an alternative to in-app typing indicators.[27][28] The video chat feature uses technology from AddLive—a real-time communications provider that SnapChat acquired prior May 1.[29] Snapchat can be used on Computer with the use of Emulator Software[30]

In November 2014, Snapchat launched "Snapcash", which enables users to send money to their friends in the app. In a partnership with payments firm Square, ‘Snapcash’ will allow people to enter their debit card payment information securely and message their friends a dollar amount to be directly deposited into the recipient’s bank account.[31]

Demographic information

The application's main demographic consists of users between 13 and 23 years of age,[32] with a growing 40-years-and-over user base identified in October 2012. Snapchat is often used to send self-portraits, called "selfies," and 30 percent of Snaps are sent to groups.[1] Spiegel revealed at the Dive Into Mobile conference in April 2013 that 80 percent of Snapchat's users are located in the U.S.[33]

Snapchat's marketing potential was published in late September 2013 by the Vocus company, with Taco Bell, Karmaloop and 16 Handles, a New York, US frozen yogurt chain, identified as early adopters of the application. Vocus explained, "Brands can set up profiles on the network and add users as friends, who opt into the brand's messages by accepting."[34]

Common uses and behaviors

In 2014, researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University designed a user survey to help understand how and why people use the Snapchat application. The researchers originally hypothesized that due to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat messages, its use would be predominately for privacy-sensitive content including the much talked about potential use for sexual content and sexting.[35] However, it appears that Snapchat is used for a variety of creative purposes that are not necessarily privacy-related at all.[35] In the study, only 1.6% of respondents reported using Snapchat primarily for sexting, although 14.2% admitted to having sent sexual content via Snapchat at some point.[35] These findings suggest that users do not seem to utilize Snapchat for sensitive content. Rather, the primary use for Snapchat was found to be for funny content like stupid faces with 59.8% of respondents reporting this use most commonly.[35]

The researchers also determined how Snapchat users do not use the application and what types of content they are not willing to send. They found that the majority of users are not willing to send content classified as sexting (74.8% of respondents), photos of documents (85.0% of respondents), messages containing legally questionable content (86.6% of respondents), or content considered mean or insulting (93.7% of respondents).[35]

The study also researched as to why people use the Snapchat application. The results suggested that Snapchat’s success is not due to its security properties, but because the users found the application to be fun. The researchers found that users seem to be well aware (79.4% of respondents) that recovering snaps is possible and a majority of users (52.8% of respondents) report that this does not affect their behavior and use of Snapchat.[35] Most users (52.8% of respondents) were found to use an arbitrary timeout length on snaps regardless of the content type or recipient. The remaining respondents were found to adjust their snaps timeout depending on the content or the recipient.[35] Reasons for adjusting the time length of snaps included the level of trust and relationship with the recipient, the time needed to comprehend the snap, and avoiding screenshots.[35]


By October 2012, Snapchat had not made any revenue[9] and Spiegel said at the time that the company was not open to being acquired.

By February 2013, Snapchat confirmed a US$13.5 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark Capital, which valued the company at between US$60 million and US$70 million. On June 24, 2013, the company's blog welcomed IVP as the lead investor from the Series B financing round, in which General Catalyst, Benchmark Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and SV Angel also participated.[36][37]

By mid-July 2013, a media report valued the company at US$860 million.[38] On November 14, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook offered to acquire Snapchat for US$3 billion, but Spiegel declined the cash offer.[39] According to Om Malik, Google then offered US$4 billion on November 15, 2013 to acquire the company, but Spiegel again declined.[40] On December 11, 2013, Snapchat confirmed US$50 million in Series C funding from Coatue Management.[41]


Lawsuit over ownership

As of February 2013, cofounder Frank Reginald "Reggie" Brown IV, a former classmate of Spiegel and Murphy who conceived of the Snapchat concept, designed the logo, and came up with the application's original name "Picaboo", filed a suit claiming to own part of the company.[42] A falling out occurred in August 2011 and Brown was consequently left out as an owner of the company.[43][44] A new filing submitted by Brown on October 23, 2013 includes Snapchat investors in the lawsuit. At the time of the new filing, the company was valued at around US$3 billion to $4 billion.[45]

Snapchat tried to settle with Brown on two prior occasions: on May 18, 2013 and again several weeks later.[46]

Snapchat announced they reached an undisclosed settlement with Brown on September 9, 2014. As part of the settlement, Brown was credited with the creation of Snapchat. The press release published by Snapchat's communication department quoted Spiegel:

We are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter in a manner that is satisfactory to Mr. Brown and the Company. We acknowledge Reggie’s contribution to the creation of Snapchat and appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground.[21]

Image retrieval and storage claims

On May 9, 2013, Forbes reported that Snapchat photos do not actually disappear, and that the images can still be retrieved with minimal technical knowledge after the time limit expires.[47] The Electronic Privacy Information Center consequently filed a complaint against Snapchat with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that Snapchat deceived its customers by leading them to believe that pictures are destroyed within seconds of viewing.[48]

Snapchat's own documentation states that the company's servers retain a log of the last 200 "snaps" that were sent and received, but no actual content is stored. The documentation further explains that if the file is not viewed by the recipient, it remains on Snapchat's servers for 30 days.[49] However there are ways to save snaps by using a modified client, such as unofficial webclients built for Snapchat like SnapWebChat.

On May 7, 2014, Snapchat settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations it deceived users over the amount of personal data it collected and was responsible for a security breach impacted 4.6 million customers. It will face privacy monitoring for 20 years.[50]

Privacy and security

Privacy and security concerns have been raised in a December 2013 report published by and Gibson Security.[51] Two exploits published in the report allow user names to be associated with the user's phone number, regardless of the user's privacy settings and allow the bulk downloading of user account details via the Snapchat API. According to an Ars Technica article in December 2013, Gibson Security attempted to bring the exploits to the attention of Snapchat in August 2013. However, no response was received, nor have the exploits been addressed.[52]

Government compliance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a digital rights group that performs annual surveys analyzing companies on several factors including government compliance.[53] On the 2014 report, Snapchat was only awarded one out of six possible stars for how it protects users data from government requests.[53] Nate Cardozo, an EFF lawyer, commented that "Snapchat joins AT&T and Comcast in failing to require a warrant for government access to the content of communications. That means the government can obtain extraordinarily sensitive information about your activities and communications without convincing a judge that there is probable cause to collect it.”[54] The report claims that this fact is troubling because of the nature of the extremely sensitive user data, like private photos, that Snapchat has.[53] The report recommended "Given the large number of users and nonusers whose photos end up on Snapchat, Snapchat should publicly commit to requiring a warrant before turning over the content of its users' communications to law enforcement.[53] In response, Snapchat denied the EFF's charge that it delivers information to the government without a warrant. Snapchat spokeswoman Mary Ritti commented that the company "routinely requires a search warrant when law enforcement requests user data."[53]


Snapchat was hacked on December 31, 2013.[55][56] The hack is said to have revealed parts of approximately 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers in a website named "".[56][57][58]

Snapchat reportedly failed to fix an API security vulnerability that was publicly disclosed by Gibson Security, an Australian security firm on August 27, 2013.[59][60] Gibson Security then made public the source code for their exploit on Christmas Day (in Australia, Christmas Eve in the US).[61][62] On December 27, Snapchat announced that it had implemented a number of mitigating features.[63] Nevertheless they were hacked by anonymous perpetrators,[64] who said that the mitigating features were only "minor obstacles".[65] The hackers also sent a statement to the popular technology blog TechCrunch, saying, "our motivation behind the release was to raise the public awareness around the issue and also put public pressure on Snapchat to get this exploit fixed".[57] Snapchat apologized a week after the hack.[66]

In October 2014, hackers got their hands on 100k 'deleted' Snapchat images. The hack – being called “The Snappening” – reportedly rivals that of the iCloud breach that recently targeted celebrities and includes at least 100,000 images. In a press statement, Snapchat confirmed the images in question came from third-party sites, but denied hackers had breached the site’s servers.[67]

Public response

Gibson Security spokesperson said, "I can understand [why they hacked Snapchat], and it's probably going to get Snapchat to do something, but I think it was too far, and they could have at least censored more of the phone numbers".[68] Gibson Security, the firm that first pointed out the security flaw, said it was not a part of the hacking attempt.[69] However, some Snapchat users posted to Twitter that they were not worried about the hack.[70] Adam Levin, co-founder of Identity Theft 911, commented that any hacking attempt impacts people. He said it is important to know that any technology can be defeated, and one should look at things skeptically.[70] According to Yahoo! Finance's Jeff Macke, "Last fall Spiegel reportedly turned down as much as $3 billion from Facebook (FB) and $4 billion from Google (GOOG)", and thus—according to Macke—, after the hack "Evan Spiegel is looking like a guy who turned down $4 billion for a company that just lost its reason to exist. That being the case we’ve got an early leader for biggest loser of 2014."[71]

Response from Snapchat

Snapchat issued a formal statement about the hack.[68][72] Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat whose number was apparently present in the hacked database, tweeted that the company was currently seeking legal help.[72] In its response, Snapchat said that an updated version of its application would soon come out that could let users opt out of the "Find Friends" feature, that required their stored numbers so that other users could easily find them.[73] Other changes applied by Snapchat after the attack, to protect users and improve security, include the rate limiting suggested by security researchers last week.[74][75]

One particular phrase in the response reads "[...] that same group publicly documented our API, making it easier for individuals to abuse our service and violate our Terms of Use". This is an example of Security through obscurity.

Snap spam

Shortly after the hack, Snapchat received many complaints from its users about snap spam that ranged from pornographic ads and dietary and weight loss ads to being the lucky winner of sweepstakes.[76][77] This flood of attacks is able to crash user's phones or give them a virus.[78] One Spanish security researcher, Jaime Sanchez, revealed that he was able to "send 1,000 messages in five seconds to a reporter's iPhone, which caused the device to freeze, requiring a reboot". Because Snapchat uses tokens to authenticate users rather than passwords, scammers are able to use these tokens, which are created whenever users update their contact list, add a friend, or send a snap, to simultaneously send snaps to hundreds of users. Sanchez suggests that this flaw resulted from Snapchat's "poor control over push notification requests".[78] According to Josh Constine, Snapchat had been aware of this spam since April 2012, as they published a blog post called "Snap Spam (Ew.)"[79] In the blog post, Snapchat acknowledged the unwanted snap complaints and informed users that the unwanted snaps originated from people sending snaps via multiple accounts. Snapchat also claimed that it is working on a longer-term solution to prevent spam from entering users' feeds. In the meantime, they advised users to change their privacy settings.[80] On January 13, 2013, Snapchat posted an apology on its blog saying, "We want to apologize for any unwanted Snaps and let you know our team is working on resolving the issue. As far as we know, this is unrelated to the Find Friends issue we experienced over the holidays" to emphasize that the snap spam was unrelated to the recent data breach. The blog also stated that the attacks were a "consequence of a quickly growing service" and offered solutions to manage and prevent spam.[81]


Concerns have been raised about the sending of nude or sexually explicit images. As many Snapchat users are below the age of eighteen,[32] a question over the technical facilitation of child pornography distribution has been raised. Snapchat's developers insisted that the application is not sexting-friendly and that they do not condone any kind of pornographic use. A February 2013 study by market research firm Survata found that mobile phone users are more likely to use MMS for sexting, rather than Snapchat.[82][83]

Sexting through Snapchat has become a widely known occurrence in the United States within the last few years . In dating applications, Snapchat features have made their services better and more appealing to users. As Snapchat is known for its use as a sexting application , Tinder, a well-known swipe dating application for young people, came up with a new feature similar to Snapchat. Unlike Snapchat where the maximum time limit is 10 seconds per photo and video, Tinder allows users to view explicit content photos for twenty four hours before disappearing.[84]

Experts state that the use of the internet is exposing young children to nudity and pornographic images at an earlier age than in the past. Research shows that children as young as 10 years old are sending and receiving sexual pictures of others and themselves through the mobile application . Child Psychologist, Dr. Michael Carr- Greg states that the rise of Snapchat has become a big issue because young children are starting lose their innocence at an earlier age . Carr-Greg also believes that parents are not taking sexting as a serious issue and are exposing children to more hours of TV and mobile applications every day.[85]

In Mid Devon, police state it is now extremely common for young people to utilize Snapchat as a way to send sexual photographs and videos. In 2012, NSPCC found that between fifteen to forty percent of young children have been sending some form of sexual photos or videos. According to police reports, sexting is used as a means for flirting and entertainment that is not taken seriously by Snapchat users.[86] Police believe that utilizing Snapchat for sexting is not safe. Const. Ken Steeves states that it is not safe for users to be sexting explicit photos through Snapchat as there are high chances that the disappearing picture could be captured and reappear somewhere where users do not expect to. This could ultimately lead to bigger issues for users of Snapchat.[87]

Recently, UCLA students made claims regarding whether or not young people believe Snapchat is used for sexting. Most of the students that were interviewed by CNBC did not recognize Snapchat as an application used for sexting. They claimed that the majority of the students send each other snaps of their friends sleeping and drawing on their faces. Students believe that Snapchat is an easily accessible tool to send photos and videos to many people instantly. They further went on to state that sexting is not a serious issue in society today.[88]

After reports of a football player getting caught sexting malicious content became public, sexting has become a heavily debated topic . On June 4, 2014, Sacked Carlton football player, Josh Bootsma, was accused of demanding his 21 year old girl friend and fan to send him explicit photos and videos. Snapchat was one of the social media applications that he used to ask sexual favors from her. Bootsma was allegedly sexting multiple girls other than his girl friend and asking for dirty snaps daily. A 15-year-old girl was known to be his first victim for receiving sexual content through Snapchat. Carlton has made the decision to terminate his contract due to league of conduct and breaching the contract as a result of sexting through Snapchat. Carlton's general manager stated that they have decided to let go of Bootsma for not living up to the standards of an AFL player.[89]

On November 14, 2013, police in Laval, Quebec, Canada arrested 10 boys aged 13 to 15 on child pornography charges after the boys allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots. Screenshots are when people take a picture of the Snapchat on the screen. Snapchat enables the picture to be viewed for only an allotted time but it does not prevent the idea of a screenshot or one taking a picture of their screen.[90][91]


Snapchat’s privacy statement states Snapchat is “the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message – simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot!”[92] Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez commented on Snapchat’s privacy stating "If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises.”[93] The FTC claims Snapchat "made multiple misrepresentations" about the application, including the longevity of photos and videos users sent. The agency's complaint cites workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat's screenshot detection, as well as third-party apps that save photos or videos indefinitely.[93]

Snapchat is designed so that all photos and videos will disappear after a predetermined amount of time set by the sender. However, users have negotiated ways to keep photos after their intended time set. One of the primary ways Snapchat users keep photos is through taking a snapshot. A screenshot is when the user makes their own copy of the photo by taking a photo of their screen while the snap is showing.[92] Snapchats response to this potential privacy threat by the FTC is that when someone takes a screenshot of a snap, the sender is provided a notification.[94] However, the concern of the FTC is not only the possibility of screenshots, but also the workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat’s screenshot detection and applications that save photos or videos permanently. Many technology blogs online give a step-by-step walk-through of how to avoid detection and save snaps. The most popular way is through a variety of applications available on the App Store. The most well known applications are Snapkeep, SnapBox and SnapSpy.[94] Snapkeep integrates with the Snapchat application so that all unopened snaps are displayed. The snaps can then be saved to the users camera roll with the touch of one button.[94] SnapBox and SnapSpy are the same concept, but the applications function on a coin-based system, meaning that you must pay one coin for each snap you save.[94] Additionally, photographs or video recordings may be taken using a second device of a snap displayed by Snapchat.[95] Snapchat's response to concerns over the potential for screenshots and saved snaps going undetected stated, "Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user."[92]

Snapchat settled with the FTC over these privacy and security claims and under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat will face independent monitoring for 20 years. Furthermore, the FTC claims that Snapchat is prohibited from "misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users' information."[93]

Snapchat voted most unreliable

On May 15, 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released their fourth annual "Who Has Your Back" report on companies' customer privacy policies. Snapchat, along with AT&T and Comcast, were given the lowest ratings but Snapchat was the only company that earned only one star.[96] The six criteria the EFF used to rate technology companies are:

  1. whether companies require a warrant in order to disclose any communications content generated through its service
  2. whether companies inform users on government data requests
  3. if companies publish transparency reports
  4. if they fight for user's privacy rights in legal disputes
  5. if they publicly resist mass surveillance
  6. if they publish law enforcement guidelines[97]

The only category Snapchat earned a star in was the sixth, for publicly disclosing the ways in which they respond to government data demands. Snapchat spokesperson Mary Ritti told the Washington Post that "the very nature of Snapchat means that we often don't have content to divulge" because the company deletes all content from its servers once all recipients have opened the Snap.[97] But forensic researcher Richard Hickman has proved otherwise. He discovered that Snapchat photos, particularly on Android phones, aren't deleted but merely hidden and can be retrieved with proper forensic software. They do not "disappear forever" as Snapchat had many users believing and may be passed down to unknown third parties without user consent.[98] To this day, Snapchat still claims that Snaps are not stored unless they have not been viewed, in which case they remain on Snapchat servers for 30 days.[99]

Legal issues with the FTC

Earlier this year, Snapchat ran into some legal issues with the FTC regarding its privacy policy. On May 8, 2014, Snapchat had accepted charges from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the company misleading users on the level of privacy offered and collecting user information in a way that violated its privacy policies. Users could screenshot photos and download third party applications that record all the content that supposedly disappears.[100] Users could even save videos by connecting their device to their computer because Snapchat didn't store videos in the private storage area on the device that other apps couldn't access.[101] The FTC also accused Snapchat of collecting email contacts from users without their consent and failing to repair security flaws in the "Find Friends" feature.[100] Because Snapchat never verified any phone numbers on this feature, users sent Snaps to complete strangers whom they believed to be their friends.[99] Snapchat never admitted to or denied any of the allegations, but after being pressured by the FTC to change its policies and placed under strict surveillance for the next 20 years, Snapchat agreed to revise its privacy policy.[100]

Changes in Snapchat's privacy policy

As of December 16, 2012, Snapchat's privacy policy was written so Snapchat was protected from legal disputes. Users can't hold Snapchat accountable for anything that might result from its services. If users managed to sue Snapchat, the limit could not exceed one US dollar. Snapchat's privacy policy also disclosed that the company collects individual's username, password, email, phone number, and Facebook ID to find friends also using Snapchat. As well, it collects "usage information," which the company claims to be anonymous, that could be shared with third parties. Snapchat may also be able to view the photos sent through its servers, though the policy states that Snapchat will "temporarily process and store [users'] images in order to provide [its] services".[102] However, after being put in the spotlight by the FTC, Snapchat modified its privacy policy to be more specific and transparent for users. Last updated on May 1, 2014, Snapchat's privacy policy is organized into seven categories: collection of information, information we collect automatically when you use the services, information we collect from other sources, use of information, sharing of information, analytics services provided by others, security, children, and your choices.[103]

Snapchat and the FTC

On May 8, 2014, Snapchat and the Federal Trade Commission agreed upon a settlement over the charges of misrepresentations of the app as well as the failure of securing the privacy of their users.

A group of anonymous hackers from SnapchatDB revealed Snapchat’s failure to secure their “Find Friends” feature on December 25, 2013. Gibson Security had previously warned Snapchat about their security issues and urged them to take immediate action. Disregarding this warning, this led the massive hack of 4.6 million Snapchat users and their phone numbers. The phone numbers of the hacked users were partially displayed online through SnapchatDB. Although SnapchatDB was taken down, the information of leaked usernames is still currently available through GibsonSec by entering in the Snapchat user’s username.[104] [105] According to the Federal Trade Commission, the contact information of iOS users were retrieved through Snapchat’s “Find Friends” feature. With doing so, Snapchat had gained access of these contacts without the consent of their users. This led to the Federal Trade Commission’s involvement of overseeing matters of Snapchat’s privacy and security of their users.[106]

Snapchat provides a photo messaging service where people can privately send photos and videos with the promise that the message would vanish within seconds. Lately there has been a revelation that messages did not vanish after viewing and some users were able to avert the “screenshot” alert sent to senders if the receiver had screenshot the sent photo. The promise of disappearing messages was misguided as the FTC reports that it was made available to third-party apps through iTunes and Google Play. With third-party apps, this made message retrievable possible for playbacks with the connection of a computer.[107]

FTC’s Chairman, Edith Ramirez stated in FTC’s press release, "If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises." To protect the privacy of Snapchat’s users, the FTC settled the dispute against Snapchat in which they are to protect their users. According to the Federal Trade Commission press release, Snapchat is “prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information. “ Thus, this prompted the Federal Trade Commission to audit Snapchat for the next 20 years.[106][108]

In efforts of to reassure and gain back the trust of their users, on May 8, 2014, Snapchat released a statement on their website stating their purpose of "developing a fast, and fun way to communicate with photos". Snapchat released a statement regarding their settlement with the FTC as they acknowledged their mistakes and promise on fixing them. The company stated in their blog, "Even before today’s consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications. And we continue to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse".[109] Snapchat promised to be more precise on communications with their users as they will for the next 20 years be under a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.[109]

See also


[110] [111] [112]

  1. ^ "Snapchat: In 'theory' you could hack... Oh Crap, is that 4.6 million user's details?".  

External links

  • Official website
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