Snapchat settles FTC charge it deceived users (Update 2)

May 8, 2014 by Glenn Chapman
The logo and a page of mobile app "Snapchat" are displayed on tablets on January 2, 2014 in Paris

US regulators on Thursday announced a deal with Snapchat to settle a charge that the Internet firm misled users into believing images sent over the popular phone application disappeared permanently.

Terms of the proposed settlement include Snapchat ramping up privacy and security at its popular self-destructing messaging service and having an independent monitor track its efforts for the next 20 years.

The Southern California-based service has gained notoriety for the app that lets people send smartphone photos or video snippets timed to self-destruct 10 seconds or less after being opened.

Snapchat rocketed to popularity after the initial app was released in September of 2011. Its growth initially sparked fears that, in a world of selfies, it would provide a false sense of security for teenagers thinking of sexting risque photos.

The US Federal Trade Commission said it had launched an investigation into whether Snapchat was not up front about how much data it collected from users, how well it protected them, and whether disappearing messages could be copied or resurrected.

"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," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a release.

'Snaps' that linger

An FTC complaint charged that Snapchat misled users on a number of fronts, including how "ephemeral" smartphone pictures or video snippets referred to as "snaps" actually are.

Snapchat boasted of letting people send images that "disappear forever" seconds after being viewed by recipients, neglecting to inform users that there are ways people can save pictures indefinitely, according to the FTC.

People who get snaps can use third-party applications to save images; grab screen-shots, or even just take another picture using a camera.

Concerns expressed by regulators included the extent to which snaps could actually be erased after viewing; how well Snapchat lets senders know when messages intended for destruction were saved, and how open it is about information it collects from users.

Hackers grab data

The FTC complaint contended that Snapchat gathered contact information from address books of people accessing the service form iPhones, iPads, or iPods without telling them.

Regulators blamed Snapchat's failure to effectively secure a Find Friends feature for allowing hackers to breach its database and steal user names and phone numbers of about 4.6 million users.

No fines were announced, but Snapchat could be hit with financial penalties if it doesn't stick with the conditions it agreed to in the settlement, according to the FTC.

Snapchat said in an online statement that it entered into the consent decree to address FTC concerns but had pre-preemptively resolved most of the concerns raised by regulators.

"While we were focused on building, some things didn't get the attention they could have," Snapchat said.

"One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community."

Snapchat said it continues to invest heavily in security and measures to prevent abuse of its service.

The settlement needs the approval of the full commission to become final.

Explore further: Snapchat rejected $3 bn offer from Facebook

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Inferring urban travel patterns from cellphone data

August 29, 2016

In making decisions about infrastructure development and resource allocation, city planners rely on models of how people move through their cities, on foot, in cars, and on public transportation. Those models are largely ...

How machine learning can help with voice disorders

August 29, 2016

There's no human instinct more basic than speech, and yet, for many people, talking can be taxing. 1 in 14 working-age Americans suffer from voice disorders that are often associated with abnormal vocal behaviors - some of ...

Apple issues update after cyber weapon captured

August 26, 2016

Apple iPhone owners on Friday were urged to install a quickly released security update after a sophisticated attack on an Emirati dissident exposed vulnerabilities targeted by cyber arms dealers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.