Snapchat Has Played it Reckless, But Users Don’t Care

Jacob Harper |

Snapchat’s popularity is largely derived form its impermanent nature. Unlike the majority of social media, which monetizes by making customer interactions public and searchable, Snapchat provides a platform for ephemeral, private messages. That is, Snapchat is sort of the anti-Twitter (TWTR) or the anti-Facebook (FB) , where the directive is to make the world not more open but more secretive.

As Snapchat succeeds primarily due to their reputation as being purveyors of exploding social media, it would behoove them to keep their user’s private messages private. But that hasn’t been the case. And on May 8, the company was forced to settle charges made by the Federal Trade Commission for falsely promising users that their “snaps” disappear forever when, in fact, that is hardly ever true.

To be sure, the most obvious way to save an exploding message is to take a screenshot of it. Snapchat had addressed this issue early on, making it so the sender is notified if the recipient uses a screenshot on a snap. Less obvious, but predictable enough for its rules-adverse teen fanbase, Snapchat users have come up with a litany of ways to otherwise save snaps.

There’s the third party apps that keep those messages from exploding as advertised without notifying the sender. Or, of course, the recipient can simply take another camera to take a photo of the photo. A snapshot of a snapshot, so to speak.

While the company could (possibly) take action against third-party apps that hack Snapchat’s functionality, there’s not a whole hell of a lot that Snapchat can do about the latter. In short, even while advertising the security and secrecy of its messages, they cannot realistically provide it.  

Nor can they assure security from malicious hackers. On New Year’s Day the company experienced what looked at the time like a damning mistake, a massive security breach wherein 4.6 million Snapchat names and numbers were leaked. It was a debacle, but also one founder/CEO Evan Spiegel largely shrugged off.

For all the hand-wringing over the false advertising concerning Snapchat’s service, the predominantly young user base does not seem to care. And Snapchat continues to grow, reportedly transmitting 700 million snaps a day, and looking more and more like a candidate to go public next year.  

When settling with the FTC, Snapchat was not forced to acknowledge fault, but did release a statement saying that they are “devoted to promoting user privacy and giving Snapchatters control over how and with whom they communicate.” To enforce this statement, Snapchat agreed ot be monitored by an independent agency for the next 20 years to make sure they keep snaps as private and impermanent as they claim they are.

How exactly this will play out, especially with the company recently taking the plunge into video and text messaging, remains to be seen. But until teens realizes en masse that nothing is as impermanent as it seems, especially pictures sent via an application, Snapchat’s rapid growth rate looks to be the one thing that looks to remain secure.  

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