|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2013)|
|Original author(s)||Snapchat, Inc.|
Leo Noah Katz
|Initial release||September 2011|
|Operating system||iOS, Android|
|Available in||English, Hindi|
|Type||Photo sharing, social networking service|
Snapchat is a photo messaging application ("app") developed by Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (as of December 2013, the range is from 1 to 10 seconds), after which they will be hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers.
As of July 2013, the interface of Snapchat, on both the Android and iOS versions, consists of a large circular button located at the center of the bottom portion of the screen, flanked on the sides by a picture of a three-dimensional box on the left hand side, and a two-dimensional striped box on the right hand side. Snapchat versions 1.0 to 4.0 originally had a blue coat covering these three buttons, although the blue coat was discarded in version 5.0.
The large circular button is the camera button. By pressing the button once, the application will take a still image. The user can then proceed to alter the image, by applying text and/or ink drawings onto the image, before sending it off to a controlled list of recipients. By holding the button, the application will instead record a short video lasting up to 10 seconds which, just like a still image, can have text applied to it by the user, before it is sent away. Recorded images and videos can be saved by the sender prior to sending by pressing the white arrow in the bottom left-hand corner.
The two-dimensional striped box on the right hand side of the interface takes the user to their contacts list, allowing the user to view their Snapchat friends and find friends from their phone contacts. Previously on Snapchat versions 1.0 to 4.0, this button served as an options menu. Pressing this box will bring up a three selection menu, allowing the user to either view their friends, find friends from their phone contacts, or to adjust the settings of the application, on matters such as notification settings, and who can send the user Snaps.
The three-dimensional box on the left hand side of the interface takes the Snapchat user to a menu that shows the user the snaps he/she has been sent by other Snapchat users, along with the snaps that the user has sent to other users. Users are informed by text whenever one of their snaps has been viewed or not, and whether it has been screenshotted or not. Users view Snaps sent to them by other Snapchat users by pressing and holding onto the image or video. The image or video will remain for the time set before it is permanently removed. As of Version 5.0, the Snapchat options menu is accessed by accessing the Snaps menu, and then pressing the cog on the top right hand corner of the Snaps menu.
During the viewing period, the recipient must maintain contact with the device's touchscreen, thereby hindering the user's ability to take a screenshot, which is allowed. The sender is also notified by Snapchat if a recipient takes a screenshot. However, it is possible for the user to bypass this mechanism by, for example, taking a picture of the phone with another camera, or by disabling the notification function through a modification of the Snapchat binary; furthermore, running the Snapchat application in an emulator will bypass all restrictions. After the set time expires, the image is deleted from the devices and the company's servers. On May 9, 2013, Snapchat's blog responded to the speculation regarding the retrieval of its app's images:
If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted. So… you know… keep that in mind before putting any state secrets in your selfies :)
Founder Evan Spiegel explained that Snapchat is intended to counteract the trend of users being compelled to manage an idealized online identity of themselves, which he says has "taken all of the fun out of communicating". Snapchat can locate a user's friends through the user's smartphone contact list. Research conducted in the UK has shown that, as of June 2013, half of all 18 to 30-year-old respondents (47 percent) have received nude pictures, while 67 percent had received images of "inappropriate poses or gestures".
Snapchat launched the "Snapchat Stories" feature in early October 2013 and released corresponding video advertisements with the tagline "It's about time." The feature allows users to create links of shared content that can be viewed an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period. The "stories" are simultaneously shared with the user's friends and content remains for 24 hours before disappearing.
The application's main demographic is users between 13 and 23 years of age; with a growing 40-years-and-over user base as of October 2012. Snapchat is often used to send self-portraits, called "selfies," and 30 percent of Snaps are sent to groups. Spiegel revealed at the Dive Into Mobile conference in April 2013 that 80 percent of Snapchat's users are located in the US.
Snapchat's marketing potential was published in late September 2013 by the Vocus company, who identified Taco Bell, Karmaloop, and 16 Handles, a New York, US frozen yogurt chain, as early adopters of the application for such a purpose. Vocus explained, "Brands can set up profiles on the network and add users as friends, who opt into the brand's messages by accepting."
Snapchat was started by Reggie Brown and Evan Spiegel as a project for one of Spiegel's classes at Stanford University, where Spiegel was a product design major. Beginning under the name Picaboo, the two later brought Bobby Murphy into the project to code the application. When Spiegel floated the idea in April 2011 in front of the product design class for his final project, classmates balked at the idea of the impermanent photos. Snapchat first launched in July 2011 under the name Picaboo in Spiegel's father's living room, though the application was later renamed and relaunched under the name Snapchat.
Early on, the Snapchat team focused on usability and technical aspects rather than branding efforts. The app's mascot is called "Ghostface Chillah", a name Brown derived from Ghostface Killah of the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
In May 2012, 25 images were being sent per second and, as of November 28, 2012, users had shared over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app, with 20 million photos being shared per day. In November 2012, Spiegel cited problems with scaling, as the userbase increased, as the reason for why Snapchat was experiencing difficulties with delivering images in real time.
As the Snapchat team set to work on its Android application, team members discovered that images had letterboxing issues for picture previews. The team spent six weeks rebuilding the camera function and Snapchat was eventually released on Android on November 29, 2012.
Snapchat raised US$485,000 in its seed round and an undisclosed amount of bridge funding from Lightspeed Ventures. In June 2013, Snapchat raised $60 million in a funding round led by venture-capital firm Institutional Venture Partners. The firm also appointed a new high-profile board member Michael Lynton of Sony's American division.
Also in June 2013, Snapchat introduced Snapkidz for users under 13 years of age. Snapkidz is part of the original Snapchat application and is activated when the user provides a date of birth to verify his/her age. Snapkidz allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but they cannot send snaps to other users and can only save snaps locally on the device being used.
In June 2013, Snapchat version 5.0, dubbed "Banquo", was released for iOS. The updated version introduced several speed and design enhancements, including swipe navigation, double-tap to reply, an improved friend finder, and in-app profiles. The same changes were then carried over to Android devices in July 2013.
The company revealed in a blog post on October 14, 2013 that it complies with the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by handing over images not yet seen by its users to American law enforcement agencies. Snapchat director of operations Micah Schaffer explained: "Since May 2013, about a dozen of the search warrants we’ve received have resulted in us producing unopened snaps to law enforcement."
By October 2012, Snapchat had not made any revenue. At this time, Spiegel said that the Snapchat team was unwilling to be acquired.
By February 2013, Snapchat confirmed a US$13.5 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark Capital, which valued the company between $60 million and $70 million. On June 24, 2013, the company's blog welcomed IVP as the lead investor from the Series B financing round, in which General Catalyst, Benchmark Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and SV it is l also participated. A mid-July media report valued the company at $860 million.
On November 14, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Snapchat declined a cash offer from Facebook of $3 billion to acquire the company. According to Om Malik, on November 15, 2013, Google offered $4B for the company but Evan Spiegel declined. On December 11, 2013, Snapchat confirmed $50M from Coatue Management in Series C funding.
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Lawsuits versus Brown
As of February 2013, Frank Reginald "Reggie" Brown IV, a former classmate of Spiegel and Murphy, is responsible for a pending lawsuit against Snapchat, as Brown claims that he originally conceived of the Snapchat concept, designed the logo, and came up with the application's original name "Picaboo." Spiegel later admitted in his deposition testimony that Brown did in fact come up with the idea for Snapchat and deserves compensation for his work on the application. Brown further states in the lawsuit that a falling out occurred in August 2011 and he was consequently omitted from the launch of the company. In response, Snapchat stated: "We are aware of the allegations, believe them to be utterly devoid of merit, and will vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous suit." This statement is contradicted by existing deposition testimony from both Spiegel and Murphy, which suggests that Brown did in fact work on the application as a partner and co-founder who originated both the idea and concept. A new filing submitted by Brown on October 23, 2013 includes Snapchat investors in the lawsuit. At the time of the new filing, the company was valued at around US$3 billion to $4 billion.
Snapchat filed for a temporary restraining order against Brown in early December 2013. The company claimed that Brown's law firm, Lee Tran Liang and Wang, leaked confidential information to the press, thereby prompting the filing. According to Snapchat, Brown and his firm admitted to leaking information and stated that they “reserve the right” to continue such actions. During the same time period, legal documents revealed that Snapchat had tried to settle with Brown on two prior occasions—firstly, on May 18, 2013, and then also several weeks later.
Image retrieval and storage claims
On May 9, 2013, Forbes reported that Snapchat photos do not actually disappear, and that the images can still be retrieved with minimal technical knowledge after the time limit expires. The Electronic Privacy Information Center consequently filed a complaint against Snapchat with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that Snapchat deceived its customers by leading them to believe that pictures are destroyed within seconds of viewing.
Snapchat's own documentation states that the company's servers retain a log of the last 200 "snaps" that were sent and received, but no actual content is stored. The documentation further explains that if the file is not viewed by the recipient, it remains on Snapchat's servers for 30 days. However there are ways to save snaps by using a modified client, such as unofficial webclients built for Snapchat like SnapWebChat .
Privacy and security
Privacy and security concerns have been raised in a December 2013 report published by ZDnet.com and Gibson Security. Two exploits published in the report allow user names to be associated with the user's phone number, regardless of the user's privacy settings and allow the bulk downloading of user account details via the Snapchat API. According to an Ars Technica article in December 2013, Gibson Security attempted to bring the exploits to the attention of Snapchat in August 2013. However, no response was received, nor have the exploits been addressed.
Snapchat reportedly failed to fix an API security vulnerability that was publicly disclosed by Gibson Security, an Australian security firm on 27 August 2013. Gibson Security then made public the source code for their exploit on Christmas Day (in Australia, Christmas Eve in the US). On December 27, Snapchat announced that it had implemented a number of mitigating features. Nevertheless they were hacked by anonymous perpetators, who said that the mitigating features were only "minor obstacles". The hackers also sent a statement to the popular technology blog TechCrunch, saying, "our motivation behind the release was to raise the public awareness around the issue and also put public pressure on Snapchat to get this exploit fixed". Snapchat apologized a week after the hack.
Gibson Security spokesperson said, "I can understand [why they hacked Snapchat], and it's probably going to get Snapchat to do something, but I think it was too far, and they could have at least censored more of the phone numbers". Gibson Security, the firm that first pointed out the security flaw, said it was not a part of the hacking attempt. However, some Snapchat users posted to Twitter that they were not worried about the hack. Adam Levin, co-founder of Identity Theft 911, commented that any hacking attempt impacts people. He said it is important to know that any technology can be defeated, and one should look at things skeptically. According to Yahoo! Finance's Jeff Macke, "Last fall Spiegel reportedly turned down as much as $3 billion from Facebook (FB) and $4 billion from Google (GOOG)", and thus—according to Macke—, after the hack "Evan Spiegel is looking like a guy who turned down $4 billion for a company that just lost its reason to exist. That being the case we’ve got an early leader for biggest loser of 2014."
Response from Snapchat
Snapchat issued a formal statement about the hack. Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat whose number was apparently present in the hacked database, tweeted that the company was currently seeking legal help. In its response, Snapchat said that an updated version of its application would soon come out that could let users opt out of the "Find Friends" feature, that required their stored numbers so that other users could easily find them. Other changes applied by Snapchat post the attack, to protect users and improve security, include the rate limiting suggested by security researchers last week.
Another controversy surrounding the rising popularity of Snapchat in the United States relates to a phenomenon known as sexting that involves the exchange of explicit images that often contain some degree of nudity. This has become a common phenomenon among teenagers today because of the use of new technology devices. As many Snapchat users are below the age of eighteen, a question over the technical facilitation of child pornography distribution has been raised.[who?] Snapchat's developers continue to insist that the application is not sexting-friendly and that they do not condone any kind of pornographic use. A February 2013 study by market research firm Survata found that mobile phone users are more likely to use MMS for sexting, rather than Snapchat.
On November 14, 2013, police in Laval, Quebec, Canada arrested 10 boys aged 13 to 15 on child pornography charges after the boys allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots. Screenshots are when people take a picture of the Snapchat on the screen. Snapchat enables the picture to be viewed for only an allotted time but it does not prevent the idea of a screenshot or one taking a picture of their screen. 
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