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Snapchat recently came clean and agreed to settle charges with the Federal
Trade Commission regarding claims that they made misrepresentations to
consumers that violated users’ privacy and security. The allegations
were centered on Snapchat’s video and photo feature. According to
Snapchat, users could send images and videos that would disappear forever
after a designated time that was determined by the sender. Now it appears
that those promises were false. The complaint also alleged that the app
tracked users’ locations and collected data without their consent.
Snapchat recently reached a settlement with the FTC and released a statement saying:
“While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get
the attention they could have. One of those was being more precise with
how we communicated with the Snapchat community.”
Snapchat blog, May 8,2014
According to the complaint, Snapchat made promises that photo and video
messages would disappear forever. Yet this was far from the truth. Consumers
could use third party apps to log into the Snapchat service and view and
save snaps indefinitely. Despite security researchers’ warnings,
the company did nothing to prevent this from occurring and continued to
misrepresent their consumers.
Another issue on hand was that consumers believed they were sending personal
images to a friend, when in reality they were sending them to complete
strangers. This was due to the fact that Snapchat failed to verify users’
phone numbers during registration.
Yet another part of the FTC complaint was particularly concerning. Snapchat’s
failure to secure the Find Friends feature on their app resulted in a
security breach that allowed hackers to assemble a database of more than
4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers. The FTC warns that this
information could be used for spam, phishing, and other unsolicited communications.
In addition, Snapchat collected iOS users’ contact information from
claimed that the app only collected user’s emails and phone numbers
for the sole purpose of finding friends. Yet Snapchat continued to collect
user contacts’ information without their consent or knowledge.
The settlement with Snapchat is just another example of the FTC’s
ongoing effort to ensure that companies continue to market their products
and apps truthfully, and was part of the multi-national sweep on mobile
app privacy. Companies are prohibited from misrepresenting themselves,
their app, or any part of their privacy or security policies.
While the FTC did not impose a financial penalty on Snapchat, they will
be subjected to independent privacy monitoring for the next 20 years.
If they violate any term of their settlement with the FTC, they could
face penalties of $16,000 per violation.