Snapchat On 20-Year Probation After Being Charged With Deceiving Users

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a press release this week stating that Snapchat has agreed to settle charges that it deceived users with false promises of disappearing messages. The FTC case also alleges that Snapchat deceived users in regards to the amount of personal data it collected and the security measures taken to protect that data. 

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez states: 

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… Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.   

While Snapchat made its name by marketing itself as a messaging app where photos and videos sent via the app would “disappear forever”, the complaint against Snapchat describes ways that recipients could save snaps indefinitely.

For example, third-party apps could be used to access the Snapchat service. Since Snapchat’s deletion feature only functions in the official Snapchat app, recipients can use these widely available third-party apps to view and save snaps indefinitely.

FTC’s press release also details several other complaints against Snapchat:

That Snapchat stored video snaps unencrypted on the recipient’s device in a location outside the app’s “sandbox,” meaning that the videos remained accessible to recipients who simply connected their device to a computer and accessed the video messages through the device’s file directory.

 That Snapchat deceptively told its users that the sender would be notified if a recipient took a screenshot of a snap. In fact, any recipient with an Apple device that has an operating system pre-dating iOS 7 can use a simple method to evade the app’s screenshot detection, and the app will not notify the sender.

That the company misrepresented its data collection practices.  Snapchat transmitted geolocation information from users of its Android app, despite saying in its privacy policy that it did not track or access such information.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Snapchat collected iOS users’ contacts information from their address books without notice or consent. When iOS users entered their phone number to find friends, Snapchat also collected the names and phone numbers of all the contacts in their mobile device address books.

The final complaint against Snapchat alleges that the company failed to secure its “Find Friends” feature. Since Snapchat did not require users to verify their phone numbers during registration, some users ended up personal snaps to complete strangers who had registered with phone numbers that weren’t theirs.

The settlement with Snapchat is part of an ongoing effort by the FTC’s to ensure companies market their apps truthfully and keep their privacy promises to users.

It also must be noted that the settlement agreement is not necessarily an admission of wrongdoing by Snapchat. In settling the charges Snapchat has agreed to change its marketing and privacy policy claims in accordance with the agreement. Snapchat will also be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years.