Last month, Snapchat reached a settlement with the Maryland Attorney General over alleged deceptive trade practices regarding Snapchat’s marketing claims that user “snaps” disappear forever.  In addition, the Attorney General alleged that Snapchat had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  This settlement follows a similar settlement between Snapchat and the Federal Trade Commission, which we reported on previously.

After announcing the settlement, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said that “despite Snapchat’s marketing claims to the contrary, no company can fully prevent content you send to someone else from being copied, shared or posted online[.]” Attorney General Gansler went on to state that companies operating online or through mobile devices have a responsibility to safeguard user privacy and to be transparent about the information they collect. According to Attorney General Gansler, Snapchat misrepresented to consumers that pictures and video messages sent using the Snapchat mobile application are only viewable temporarily, when in fact they can be captured by the recipient for future viewing or circulation. As a result of these representations, some Snapchat mobile application users may have sent pictures or video messages they would not have sent were these risks adequately disclosed.  The Attorney General further alleged that Snapchat secretly collected information from users’ contact lists without their consent, and that Snapchat failed to comply with COPPA by knowingly collecting the personal information of children under the age of 13 without verifiable parental consent.

While Snapchat did not accept liability in the settlement (and made that very clear on its own website), it did agree to implement measures to address the Attorney General’s allegations, including, by agreeing to disclose to users that the recipients of “snaps” have the ability to copy photos and video messages they receive. Snapchat further agreed to comply with COPPA for a period of 10 years, and said that it would take specific steps to ensure children under 13 were not creating accounts.  Snapchat also agreed to pay $100,000 to the State of Maryland as part of the settlement.

This action by the Maryland Attorney General is the latest in a growing number of state-level privacy enforcement actions.  When we reported on the privacy enforcement actions brought in New Jersey and California, we questioned whether other states would follow suit in their focus on consumer privacy.  It looks like we have our answer. 

Michael Schaeppi