Federal Trade Commission officials in San Diego last week announced a proposed settlement with the popular mobile messaging service Snapchat, which will admit to making a series of false statements to users.
The service has gained popularity in recent years due to its anonymous nature — video and text messages sent through the program are designed to "self-destruct" seconds after being opened by their recipient. But while users were led to believe by the company that their messages disappeared into the ether, it turns out that may not be the case after all.
Preserving an image can be done simply by a recipient using a screen-grab feature available on most smartphones without a sender's knowledge, despite claims that a sender would be notified of such activity. Third-party apps exist that allow users to save a transmission that the sender likely didn't intend to be a permanent record. Images that are supposed to be deleted are also stored on a user's phone under the file extension .NOMEDIA which, if removed, allows for retrieval of the supposedly deleted information.
Further, when users activate the "Find Friends" feature on Snapchat, their user location and address book contents is captured without consent. The FTC complaint further alleges that the company then transmitted location data and other sensitive information, including address-book info, again without informing clients.
The undisclosed data-protection policies allowed researchers to collect 4.6 million user names and phone numbers.
The settlement requires Snapchat to establish a new privacy program and implement changes in both software functionality and disclosure of the privacy risks inherent to users of the program.