Snapchat images may come back to haunt you!

Snapchat is a mobile phone application intended to allow users to send photos to their friends and limit the amount of time for which the photos can be viewed.  Once the allotted viewing time has elapsed, Snapchat is supposed to delete the photos entirely from the recipient’s device as well as from Snapchat’s servers so that it cannot be accessed again. Many users send images to protect their privacy while enjoying the ability to share an image with another for brief intervals. Usually the user places a high value on the claim of permanent deletion following the reveal of the image. Snapchat has even implemented mechanisms to let sends know if recipient’s take screenshots of the images.Snapchat currently reports that its users send 150 million “snaps” per day a sign of its rising popularity. The question is are your snapchats really deleted?

Way back when Snapchat was first launched, Buzzfeed discovered a loophole that allowed cached Snapchat videos to be rewatched on an iOS browser like iFunBox. In response, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegal 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!”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a self-described public interest research center focusing on privacy issues and consumer advocacy, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on May 16, alleging that Snapchat’s representations that its users’ photos “disappear forever” once viewed by a recipient are deceptive and likely to mislead consumers.  The complaint alleges violations of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and requests the Commission to investigate.

The complaint alleges that Snapchat does not delete a file after its been viewed instead Snapchat adds “.nomedia” extension tot he end of the file name which renders the file unviewable. However, any tech-savvy user could alter the file name by removing the “.nomedia” extension and the files are again viewable.

Since launch, Snapchat has slowly but progressively admitted that the app isn’t actually as privacy-friendly and secure as it’s made out to be. In fact Snapchat recently published a point-by-point blog post going over how it stores and deletes Snapchat data, with the tender warning at the very bottom that says, “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 :)”

Snapchat’s policies do not describe this process and do not advise users that the files are recoverable.  Snapchat’s privacy policy does, however, state that “[a]lthough we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is received and opened by the recipient. . . we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case “  For example, the policy goes on to state, “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.”

 
The complaint alleges that Snapchat’s representations to users “that photos sent using its app would be deleted after a user-designated amount of time” are “likely to mislead the reasonable consumer” and that those representations are material.  In addition to asking the FTC to investigate Snapchat’s claims that users’ images are permanently deleted, the complaint asks that the FTC require Snapchat to make improvements to its security practices to successfully delete users’ photos and to cure any deceptive statements about its services.

What does all of this mean for you?

BE CAREFUL!  As I continue to stress when dealing with social media, your content never really goes away! Everything online lives on.  This app is not an exception, at least not yet.

However, there is a lot of skill and effort involved in retrieving these images it is not likely that most recipients will expend the time and energy necessary to recover old images. They are more likely to screenshot the image upon receipt.

Lets be honest, Snapchat is a common medium for sexting and sending other inappropriate content… If you have to send it via Snapchat, can the recipient really be trusted and even more is it worth finding out?
 

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