Snapchat settles charges it misled users

 

Snapchat has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the agency’s complaint that the photo-sharing app misrepresented the ways it collected and shared user data.

While Snapchat claimed that videos and photos sent through the app would “disappear forever” after the recipient viewed them, the FTC claimed that there are numerous ways to access to the “snaps,” including through third-party applications.

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Additionally, because the app stored unencrypted copies of sent videos on the users’ devices, users could access the supposedly ephemeral videos by connecting their devices to a computer, the agency said.

“Many of Snapchat’s users were undoubtedly attracted by Snapchat’s promise that photos and videos shared through the service — what it calls ‘snaps’ — would self-destruct seconds after opening,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said Thursday, speaking at a Media Institute event.

According to the complaint, Snapchat also collected and shared information about users’ locations — which it pledged not to do in its privacy policy — and did not consistently notify users when recipients took screenshots of snaps, despite saying it would.

Finally, the FTC claimed that Snapchat failed to secure its “Find Friends” feature — which lets users look up other Snapchat users by phone number — despite multiple warnings that the feature was faulty.

Because the app failed to verify users’ phone numbers, users could register and communicate with others using a fraudulent number, the FTC said.

“As a private messaging app, Snapchat should have also ensured that messages went to the right people,” Ramirez said.

“Yet a number of consumers complained that they had sent snaps to someone under the false impression that they were communicating with a friend.”

Under the settlement between the agency and Snapchat, the company will be prohibited from misrepresenting its privacy and security practices and will have to “implement a comprehensive privacy program” to be reviewed by an independent privacy expert for the next 20 years.

The settlement, which the five-member commission unanimously supported, is open to public comment for the next 30 days, after which the agency will vote to make it final.