Snapchat admits to deceiving users

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Popular app Snapchat admitted deceiving users about privacy and security settings in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission Thursday.

On Thursday, April 8, 2014, the FTC released details on its website of its settlement regarding Snapchat’s misrepresentation to users. The agency’s prime concern was that pictures, or ‘snaps,’ do not disappear forever as the company promised.

The FTC concluded that Snapchat must share honest privacy and security standards with its users and that it will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for 20 years.

“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 press release. 

The FTC found that screenshots can easily be taken of pictures sent through the app without the sender knowing, directly contradicting Snapchat’s promises.

This can be done a number of simple ways, primarily through third party apps, which have been downloaded millions of times. Apple devices running on an operating system prior to iOS 7 can also take screenshots of snaps without the sender knowing.

Users who send videos through the app have additional reasons to be concerned. The FTC discovered that Snapchat stores video snaps on recipients’ devices unencrypted.

This means any user could view videos again by plugging their phone into a computer and selecting their device’s file directory.

“Snapchat stored video snaps unencrypted on the recipient’s device in a location outside the app’s ‘sandbox,’ meaning that the videos remained accessible to recipients who simply connected their device to a computer and accessed the video messages through the device’s file directory,” the press release said.

The FTC also concluded that Snapchat has security problems. It reported that Snapchat “transmitted geolocation information from users of its Android app, despite saying in its privacy policy that it did not track or access such information.”

FTC records verified that usernames, locations and phone numbers were tracked and collected.

The FTC’s investigation started after a group of hackers broke into Snapchat’s system and posted usernames and numbers in January 2014. Hackers accessed at least 4.6 million users’ information.

Snapchat has already updated its privacy policy and has promised to make security its new priority.

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