Now you see it … and now it’s still there.
Mobile messaging app Snapchat went with a catchier slogan, promising consumers that pictures and videos sent through its service, known as “snaps,” could disappear from the Internet forever. But in a recent deal with the Federal Trade Commission, the company settled charges that its “now you see it” claims were false and deceptive.
Snapchat appealed to consumers seeking to control their social media images by promising that pictures and videos sent via snapchat would “disappear forever” when a sender-selected time period between 1 and 10 seconds expired, the agency alleged. The app’s FAQs stated: “Is there any way to view an image after the time has expired? No, snaps disappear after the timer runs out.”
But according to the FTC, the company was aware of multiple ways the images could be maintained indefinitely.
For example, the deletion feature functioned only in the official Snapchat app. So if a user logged in to Snapchat using a third-party app, a recipient could view and save pictures for as long as he or she wanted. A security researcher even warned Snapchat about this possibility, but the company continued with its misrepresentations, the FTC said.
The app also assured users that they would be notified if recipients took a screenshot of a picture. But recipients using certain Apple operating systems could easily evade the app’s screenshot detection, the agency said.
The final charge: the app lacked reasonable data security, resulting in a data breach impacting 4.6 million Snapchat users. When users joined the app, they were invited to share their mobile number so that Snapchat could find their friends. But the “find friends” feature was not secure because the app failed to verify phone numbers during the registration process. Accordingly, in some cases users sent personal photos to strangers who registered with phone numbers belonging to someone else. Hackers were able to gather a list of Snapchat user names and phone numbers from the unsecured system, the FTC said.
Pursuant to the settlement, Snapchat will no longer make misrepresentations about the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information, the FTC said, and will implement a comprehensive privacy program.
The proposed deal is open for public comment until June 9.
To read the FTC’s complaint and proposed consent order in In the Matter of Snapchat, click here.
Why it matters: The agency called the Snapchat case “part of the FTC’s ongoing effort to ensure that companies market their apps truthfully and keep their privacy promises to consumers.” As Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement about the action, “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.”