Snapchat Settles With FTC For Misleading Users With “Disappearing” Messages

snapchatThe FTC is finally taking measures against Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app that turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook. The allegations were filed last year by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and is part of a multi-national Global Privacy Enforcement Network.

Charges against Snapchat are very severe, including allegations the company gave misleading statements about the privacy features of the app: Consumers can, for example, use third-party apps to log into the Snapchat service, according to the complaint.  Because the service’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.

Snapchat is also accused of storing contact information from iOS users’ address books without notice or consent.The FTC also finds fault with Snapchat’s Find Friends feature which failed to verify user’s phone numbers, reculsting in snaps being sent to unidentified users and unintended recipients.

Further,

  •  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 response to the public settlement, Snapchat published a short blog post explaining some of the changes the app has already undertaken since its major security breach and subsequent public backlash:

While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have. One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community. This morning we entered into a consent decree with the FTC that addresses concerns raised by the commission. Even before today’s consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications. And we continue to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse.

 

As per the FTC settlement, there are no financial fines Snapchat will have to pay. Public comments are opened for 30 days – after which, the decision will be final. The settle only carries this verdict for now:

Under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, Snapchat will be prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information.  In addition, the company will be required to implement a comprehensive privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years.

 

However, future actions can carry a fine of up to $16,000 per violation.

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