YOUR SMARTPHONE — Snapchat’s popularity arose primarily because the app promised to secure the privacy of users — the photos taken and sent to friends promised to disappear after they were viewed.
A new investigation by the Federal Trade Commission reveals the app’s privacy settings mislead users, and after filing a complaint, the app has agreed on a settlement.
“If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its services to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises,” said FTC chairwoman Edith Rameriz in a statement. “Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.”
Despite the app claiming that photos were gone forever once they were viewed, support apps have been developed that allowed users to save Snapchat photos without ever alerting the app itself. In the interface, if someone takes a screenshot of your photo, you are notified. With these external apps, Snapchat users would have no idea their images were being stored. Videos could also be located and saved using certain techniques the creators of Snapchat did nothing to prevent.
Furthermore, location information was stored and used for data mining by Snapchat, despite the app claiming it did not save any geographic information.
Snapchat never verified phone numbers — and some users registered with numbers that were not their own. The “Find Friends” feature led Snapchat users to believe they were communicating with friends, when they were sending photo and video to unverified strangers.
“As a result of these failures, in December 2013, attackers were able to use multiple accounts to send millions of Find Friend requests using randomly generated phone numbers,” the FTC complaint said. “The attackers were able to compile a database of 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and the associated mobile phone numbers. The exposure of usernames and mobile phone numbers could lead to costly spam, phishing, and other unsolicited communications.”
The creators of the app responded by saying they are on the road to filling the holes and blocking the roads that have made the app’s integrity come into question.
“When we started building Snapchat, we were focused on developing a unique, fast and fun way to communicate with photos,” Snapchat said in a blog post. “We learned a lot during those early days. One of the ways we learned was by making mistakes, acknowledging them, and fixing them.”