Snapchat Settles With the FTC Over Broken Privacy Promises

Snaps didn't disappear and data was collected

Snapchat, an app that promised messaging privacy, broke those promises to users, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday. The hot startup agreed to settle with the FTC over charges it had deceived users about the ephemeral nature of its video and text message "snaps."

In multiple, unequivocal marketing claims, Snapchat promised users that the photo and video "snaps" would disappear. But according to the FTC's complaint, the snaps can be saved using third-party apps or other workarounds.

That wasn't the only way Snapchat deceived its users, according to the FTC. The popular mobile app also misrepresented its data collection practices in its privacy policy, transmitting and tracking geolocation information after telling users it didn't collect that information. Snapchat also collected names and phone numbers from users' address books files without notice or permission.

Snapchat also fell short securing users' data in its Find Friends feature, resulting in a security breach in 2013 that allowed attackers to compile a database of 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers.

As part of its settlement with the FTC, Snapchat will be required to implement a comprehensive privacy policy program subject to an audit by an independent privacy professional for 20 years. 

The case sets itself apart among other FTC cases because of the many unequivocal express claims Snapchat made about the privacy benefits of its service.

"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," said FTC chair Edith Ramirez, who announced the case during a speech before the Media Institute on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

In a blog post, Snapchat admitted that in its zeal to develop the app "some things didn't get the attention they could have." The company also said that before the consent decree was announced, it had resolved most of the privacy concerns by rewording its policy.

"We are devoted to promoting user privacy and giving Snapchatters control over how and with whom they communicate," the company said.