In a settlement announced Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat could receive 20 years of privacy oversight from the FTC due to its deception of Snapchat users about their privacy. The FTC claims Snapchat deceived users by how well snaps disappeared in Snapchat, how much personal data it collected and security it provided Snapchat users of their data.
“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,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, said in a statement following the settlement. “Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.”
Snapchat, the FTC said, touted the central feature of the app that snap/message sent disappeared forever after it was opened by the other snap users. However, the FTC said there are several issues with that promise including the ability to use third-part app that allow users to "view and save snaps indefinitely." The settlement said Snapchat must make several policy changes, change security measures and communicate with users about these changes.
On its company blog, Snapchat said it has made mistakes, is acknowledging them and is going to take corrective action.
Three additional ways Snapchat deceived consumers, according to the FTC, include stored video snaps that can be saved on the recipient's device by connecting the device with Snapchat to a computer and accessing the Snapchat file. Snapchat also claims that when a screenshot is taken of a snap that the sender is notified, however the FTC said on Apple iOS devices pre-dating iOS 7 that zero notifications were sent.
Privacy and security are issues Snapchat has been warned about before but came to light in a big way when a hacking group notified Snapchat that it could easily collect data of Snapchat users. The group that hacked Snapchat was not trying to use the information for any ill will, just to let Snapchat know it had a major security flaw. The hackers posted with blurred images 4.6 million users' phone numbers and user names.
The company acknowledge the hack and said it would beef up its standards to ensure privacy.
" ... We acknowledged in a blog post last Friday that it was possible for an attacker to use the functionality of Find Friends to upload a large number of random phone numbers and match them with Snapchat usernames. On New Year’s Eve, an attacker released a database of partially redacted phone numbers and usernames. No other information, including Snaps, was leaked or accessed in these attacks," Snapchat's statement said.
Snapchat is a mobile app, available on iOS or Android devices that allow users to "snap" a picture (or video) that can be altered with color or additional text that is sent to another user. By pressing and holding the snap, the message appears for a few seconds before disappearing forever. Until recently only taking a screenshot of the snap could the receiver of a snap save a message. Now, after an announcement made last week, Snapchat allows texts and video-messaging service similar to FaceTime.