Have you ever wondered where your “snaps” go when they disappear from Snapchat? Maybe there’s a Snapchat heaven, or maybe they magically disappear forever, or maybe they’re being intercepted by a third party . . .
For millions of Snapchat users, it’s likely this thought has crossed their minds. But many are comforted by Snapchat’s promise that their photos will disappear forever after they’re sent.
Snapchat is a mobile app that allows you to send and receive ephemeral media messages. Quite simply, it can be explained as a way to privately converse with friends through videos, captions, photos, and (most recently) text.
What sets Snapchat apart from a sea of other messaging apps is that the messages actually self-destruct between 1-10 seconds after the message is received. This feature is at least in part responsible for Snapchat’s popularity. But just last month, the messaging apps overall integrity was brought into question when they agreed to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission.
In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the reasons for the Snapchat phenomenon, the flaws in the privacy settings, and whether Snapchat’s privacy settings will impact its future.
Why All the Hype?
With an increasing number of users, it’s no surprise that there are many different reasons as to why people love Snapchat.
Since its earliest days, Snapchat has had the infamous reputation for being used to send (potentially) questionable media messages. And, based off the notion of self-destructing images, it seems like the perfect tool for the job. That is, if Snapchat actually followed through on its public privacy claims.
Additionally, sometimes whether you’re sending something thought-provoking, sexy, or just outrageously ridiculous—the idea of controlling how long the image can be viewed is comforting.
Another reason Snapchat is so popular is its conversational approach to messaging.
And compared with other social media networks, Snapchat does just that. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, Snapchat is less about “networking” and more about cultivating conversation. The immediacy of the “snaps” create an in-the-moment feeling, and because Snapchat conversations are between 2 people, rather than 20, it makes each message personal, conversational.
Similarly, when comparing Snapchat to other conversational tools, such as text messaging or Facebook chat, Snapchat is definitely more user-friendly.
The typical process of sending a media message via text goes something like this: create the message, send the message, wonder if your message was received, anxiously await their response (20 minutes goes by . . . still waiting), only to be reminded by your text history that they haven’t responded to your last 3 messages.
Snapchat allows you to bypass a large part of this process. Just open the app, snap a media message, and hit send.
You’ll be alerted when they open, and you will never be reminded of the fact that they haven’t responded to your last 3 messages.
Everything on the web is potentially vulnerable to third-party retrieval. From chatrooms to emails to Facebook—all of these things can potentially be intercepted. For many, the lack of privacy may feel suffocating, or even unconstitutional. So, it isn’t surprising that Snapchat might seem like a breath of fresh air.
Snapchat Privacy Settings
Snapchat refers to itself as an ephemeral messaging application, claiming that after the timer runs out the message will disappear forever.
Last month, Snapchat admitted to misleading its users, when they agreed to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission. As it turns out, Snapchat has been misrepresenting their privacy settings—as the “snaps” weren’t disappear as easily as promised. While most Snapchat users understand the risk of someone snapping a screenshot of their message, many users are unaware of the other privacy risks.
The truth is that, similar to deleted Facebook photos and Tweets, the “snaps” are also at risk of interception, retrieval, and vulnerabilities, risking the chance that they’ll be permanently placed on the internet. Similarly, there are a range of 3rd-party apps that allow users to save, and even retrieve “snaps.” There are even ways to take a screenshot without notifying the sender. In fact, any recipient using an Apple device with an operating system pre-dating iOS 7 can quite simply evade screenshot detection.
The complaint also identified that Snapchat did not secure its “find friends” feature, and hackers have been collecting the usernames and phone numbers of over 4 million Snapchat users since January.
Snapchat is required to start an expansive privacy program, and update all misleading privacy information. Additionally, the app-messaging company will be monitored for 20 years. If the agreements are violated, fines could follow.
Oh Snap, Now What?
It doesn’t seem like Snapchat’s popularity has been adversely impacted by its recent publicity. In fact, according to App Annie as of today, June 2, Snapchat is 8th most downloaded application on the iOS Top Chart.
Additionally, as you can see the overall ranking of the messaging app doesn’t seem to have been impacted since the FTC agreement went public in early May.
Snapchat continues to stand among the top most downloaded apps in the world. But how can that be? How is it possible that an application pitched on the notion of ephemeral messaging wasn’t impacted after its ephemerality was proven to be a fabrication?
In an article on Mashable, Kurt Wagner said,
A new study found that more than three-quarters of college students — 77%, in fact — use Snapchat at least once per day.
Targeted at a younger generation, Snapchat’s users could simply be unaware of the privacy risks. It’s also possible that many may not understand the consequences, or that they just don’t care.
Another explanation could be that maybe Snapchat has developed into something more than just an application for sending questionable messages. Maybe it’s become a norm, part of our everyday routine: like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Either way, the privacy risks associated with using Snapchat shouldn’t be taken lightly. In my opinion, it’s up to the folks at Snapchat to properly represent their application.
Who do you think is responsible for protecting user privacy?
Marie Dodson is an editorial assistant at Torque. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Biology and Society. She enjoys wine, good books, and travel.