Snapchat admits its self-destructive messages are not that ephemeral, settles FTC case

By April Taylor , May 09, 2014 10:30 AM EDT

Snapchat has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over allegations of deceiving customers, acknowledging that its practices haven't been quite as claimed.

The FTC had accused Snapchat of collecting and mishandling user data, while also deceiving users regarding the disappearing nature of messages. Snapchat became a very popular messaging service particularly due to this feature, as the service claimed that messages were ephemeral and self-destructing, and could not be stored long-term.

As part of the new settlement with the FTC, Snapchat will have to implement a number of measures, and the company's operations will face regular monitoring for the next 20 years.

The FTC further notes that in addition to deceiving customers about the ephemeral nature of Snapchat messages by enabling third-party apps to store Snapchat photos, the company has also kept collected data outside of the app sandbox and did not notify users of its geolocation practice.

"Snapchat, the developer of a popular messaging app, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers with promises about the disappearing nature of messages sent through the service," the FTC wrote in a blog post on Thursday, May 8. "The FTC case also alleged that the company deceived consumers over the amount of personal data it collected and the security measures taken to protect that data from misuse and unauthorized disclosure. In fact, the case alleges, Snapchat's failure to secure its Find Friends feature resulted in a security breach that enabled attackers to compile a database of 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers."

When it comes to the data breach the FTC mentioned, Snapchat received heavy criticism at the time for not addressing the vulnerability in a timely manner. The FTC further noted that the breach could affect user beyond Snapchat, as those stolen contact details could be used for spam or phishing operations.

Snapchat, meanwhile, acknowledged its mistakes and reckoned that it didn't handle data as it should have.

"When we started building Snapchat, we were focused on developing a unique, fast, and fun way to communicate with photos. We learned a lot during those early days. One of the ways we learned was by making mistakes, acknowledging them, and fixing them," Snapchat wrote in a company blog post on Thursday, May 8, announcing its agreement with the FTC.  

"While we were focused on building, some things didn't get the attention they could have. One of those things was being more precise with how we communicate with the Snapchat community. This morning we entered into a consent decree with the FTC that addresses concerns raised by the commission. Even before today's consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording on our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications. And we continue to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse."

In conclusion, in case you didn't know by now, if you've ever sent messages over Snapchat relying on the fact that they would disappear never to be seen again, things are not quite so. Can you imagine the mass hysteria if all those nude selfies sent over Snapchat would come back to haunt the senders?

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