FTC Gives Snapchat the Smackdown

Under threat of FTC fines, Snapchat agreed to a 20-year term of being monitored by an independent privacy auditor.



Snapchat’s security and privacy problems are well documented. After a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat has been forced to roll back on its claims that it was protecting user data. The complaint alleged that Snapchat’s privacy features, particularly its much-touted ‘ephemerality,’ were very easy to circumvent. But will a 20-year deal with the FTC bring any changes for the app?

The primary complaints from the FTC were all related to what Snapchat represented its service being versus what it actually delivered. “Snapchat marketed the app’s central feature as the user’s ability to send snaps that would ‘disappear forever’ after the sender-designated time period expired.  Despite Snapchat’s claims, the complaint describes several simple ways that recipients could save snaps indefinitely,” the FTC said in a statement.

The statement also mentioned third-party apps that could bypass Snapchat’s deletion procedure, and Snapchat storing snaps in areas of storage that could be accessed from outside the app. The statement added that despite claiming to neither collect nor store geo-location data, Android users had their snaps geo-tagged without permission.

Instead of having the matter play out in court, Snapchat signed a 20-year deal to be monitored by an independent privacy auditor. According to Farhad Manjoo, contributor to the New York Times, such settlements are not uncommon among tech companies. In fact, he considers it something of a rite of passage.

Despite Snapchat’s claims that it’s ready and willing to change, Manjoo isn’t convinced that the monitoring will actually alter how Snapchat does business. He cites a 2012 case:

Google was installing tracking cookies on iPhone users’ web browsers, even though the iPhone blocked such code by default. Google denied any wrongdoing, but the agency’s investigators found that the code violated the 2011 consent decree, and the agency imposed a ‘record’ fine against Google.

Whether the settlement will change the way Snapchat handles user privacy is yet to be seen, but if their track record is anything to go by, it probably won’t. Then again, this is an opportunity for Snapchat to finally deliver on its promises of true privacy and ephemerality.