The truth is now out there about Snapchat’s security standards, and unfortunately for the company, this message won’t disappear in six seconds.

On May 8, the popular mobile app settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it misled customers in believing that its messages were more private than they actually were. Snapchat has built a large consumer base over the promise of “temporary” pictures that would self-delete after a specified amount of time.

However, in a complaint against the company, the FTC charged that Snapchat’s promises were too good to be true. The Commission noted that “chats” sent through the app could be saved through a third-party application or simple workaround that let those receiving the messages to take a screenshot without alerting the other user. The FTC also said that the app took users’ private information, such as location and address book contents, without permission.

“One thing we want to make clear,” said Chris Olsen, the assistant director of the FTC’s division of privacy and identity protection, to the New York Times following the announcement . “If you make promises about privacy, you must honor those promises or otherwise risk FTC enforcement.”

Through the terms of the settlement, Snapchat agreed to stop misrepresenting its privacy standards to users. The app will also begin implementing a wide-ranging privacy program and will be subject to independent review for 20 years, which could result in fines if Snapchat does not abide by the FTC’s standards.

“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 blog post following the settlement.  “While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have.”

It remains to be seen how this settlement will affect Snapchat’s future business practices. Facebook offered to buy out the company in late 2013 for billions of dollars, but Snapchat’s leaders rejected the offer in hopes for something better.


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The gathering storm: What to expect in the future of cybersecurity litigation

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