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Snapchat’s Violation of User Privacy

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In the past, we have written about ways to protect our privacy such using browser extensions and setting up a two-factor authentication to beef up your security. However, as much as we should protect our privacy on the internet and be careful about what we post, we should also be wary of using mobile applications to transmit our personal information.

Among the plethora of mobile applications that we use frequently, Snapchat was recently found by the Federal Trade Commission last month in violation with the privacy settings offered.

Snapchat rose to popularity due to its ability to send pictures and messages that is deleted after a certain amount of time. Its users would often send funny and embarrassing pictures to their friends and family, and media have often reported about Snapchat’s role as a medium for sexting.

However, last month, the Federal Trade Commission settled with Snapchat over charges that it deceived customers about the disappearing nature of the messages sent, and that it collected users’ contacts without telling them or asking permission.

Its main charges included Snapchat’s application storing video snaps that were not encrypted on the recipients’ devices, and those videos remained accessible to the recipient long after, and Snapchat’s failure to secure its “find friends” feature – a security flaw which was highlighted after hackers collected the usernames and phone numbers of approximately 4.6 million users. Snapchat later commented that it has fixed the security breach.

As part of the agreement, Snapchat must implement a privacy program monitored by an outside privacy expert for the next twenty years. This particular case mirrors similar privacy settlements between FTC and companies such as Google, Facebook, and MySpace.

In response to the charges and settlement, Snapchat released a statement in which they declared, “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.”