SnapChat and Your Personal Privacy

Category: Privacy

We've all heard of people who regretted sending embarrassing photos or videos to others. SnapChat is a messaging app for iPhone and Android that promises 'no regrets' because the things it sends are deleted within 10 seconds of being viewed. Or are they? Read on for some surprising information about Snapchat, and some tips on protecting your privacy...

What is SnapChat?

Created by four Stanford University students, SnapChat is a hit with the 13 to 23 age group; the kids most likely to be exchanging things they’d rather not see Googled by the whole world, especially when they are seeking employment years later. Surprisingly, SnapChat is catching on among Wall Street “adults,” too. SnapChat creates a sense of control which probably inspires more foolish use of multimedia messaging.

SnapChat appears to prevent, or at least discourage, unauthorized saving of received messages. However, recent research indicates that not all SnapChats vanish completely. The recipient must keep a finger on the receiving device’s touchscreen (for a maximum of 10 seconds) while viewing the content, which makes taking a screenshot difficult.

If a screenshot is taken, the sender receives a notification and, presumably, can kick the offender’s butt. However, nothing prevents another viewer from snapping a pic of the screen on which a SnapChat is displayed without the sender’s knowledge.

What is Snapchat?

Furthermore, it has been verified that videos, if not still images, are not deleted from the recipient’s device when the SnapChat time limit expires. They are merely hidden from view. A 24 year-old Utah forensics researcher spent two days discovering how to recover SnapChat videos from Android devices. He had the incentive of getting paid to do so in order to retrieve evidence for divorce cases. BuzzFeed has documented a similar hack for iOS devices.

Evan Spiegel, co-founder of SnapChat, just shrugs off this vulnerability. He told Buzzfeed, “The people who most enjoy using Snapchat are those who embrace the spirit and intent of the service. There will always be ways to reverse engineer technology products — but that spoils the fun!”

Hmmm, a software bug that could jeopardize a user's privacy is no big deal? It seems like "We're aware of the problem, and our highly skilled programmers are working on a fix right now" would have been a better response. But maybe the SnapChat team is already distracted by visions of a big payday, just around the bend. Or maybe they know there's another app called SnapKeep, which gives users the ability to download and store incoming SnapChat images without the sender's knowledge.

Oh, and don't confuse this app with similar-sounding SnapCAT, which lets your cat share his or her embarrassing feline photos on Facebook or Twitter. Ironically, Snapcat has it's own little controversy. Photos don't show up in the phone's Gallery, but are stored in a hidden folder which makes it difficult to find or delete unwanted photos. Scandal! :-)

Privacy, Schmivacy!

Despite its shortcomings (including a false-advertising claim filed with the FTC by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), SnapChat appears to be the darling of investors. The 12-person startup is reportedly close to closing a $100 million round of financing and preparing to hire an army of ad sellers. Apparently, people will pay to advertise on a message that lasts less than 10 seconds. The company claims that over 150 million SnapChat messages are shared each day.

Facebook has added a SnapChat-like enhancement to its Poke feature; initially, at least, it suffered from the same video vulnerability. A copycat called ClipChat has appeared which blackens the screen if a screenshot is attempted. But nothing is going to prevent bystanders from taking pictures of SnapChats.

The rule of thumb used to be "If you wouldn't want to see it published in the New York Times, don't send it in an email." Now, you have to think about other types of data that you send across the wires. It's wise to keep in mind that ANYTHING you do on the Internet (or your phone) could possibly become public. That includes emails, text messages, pictures and videos.

Just ask Anthony Weiner, or General David Petraeus. Your privacy can be compromised in many ways: user error (sending to the wrong person), malicious people sharing things you sent them, malware, subpoenas, or search warrants. And with the recent revelations about the NSA collecting phone and Internet data, it seems all privacy bets are off. As for Snapchat, the basic rule remains the same: if you don’t want something on the Internet forever, don’t take a picture of it.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "SnapChat and Your Personal Privacy"

Posted by:

24 Jun 2013

'You will never be able to protect people from their own idiocy'

And if anyone believes that they can send pictures or video without consequences...... There's this really nice bridge I have for sale, yes that's the one, over the Thames, next to the House of Commons.

Some people shouldn't be allowed to use phones or computers without supervision, and it's because of them that the 'powers that be' will be putting a 'Victorianised' net-nanny at ISP level in the UK.


Posted by:

24 Jun 2013

You can't fix stupid!

Posted by:

24 Jun 2013

Bottom line ... You can't fix stupid.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2013

I can take pictures/videos of my screen with a digital camera. As a matter of fact,I just did. The image only last 10 seconds? The screen goes black/blank when any screen capture software is used? So what? I've just screen capture hardware.
You can fix stupid but it's against the law.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2013

Technology has a useful purpose, but you can't regulate stupidity.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- SnapChat and Your Personal Privacy (Posted: 24 Jun 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved