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Common Uses and Behaviors[edit]

In 2014, researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University designed a user survey to help understand how and why people use the Snapchat application. The researchers originally hypothesized that due to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat messages, its use would be predominately for privacy-sensitive content including the much talked about potential use for sexual content and sexting. [1] However, it appears that Snapchat is used for a variety of creative purposes that are not necessarily privacy-related at all. [1] In the study, only 1.6% of respondents reported using Snapchat primarily for sexting, although 14.2% admitted to having sent sexual content via Snapchat at some point. [1] These findings suggest that users do not seem to utilize Snapchat for sensitive content. Rather, the primary use for Snapchat was found to be for funny content like stupid faces with 59.8% of respondents reporting this use most commonly. [1]

The researchers also determined how Snapchat users do not use the application and what types of content they are not willing to send. They found that the majority of users are not willing to send content classified as sexting (74.8% of respondents), photos of documents (85.0% of respondents), messages containing legally questionable content (86.6% of respondents), or content considered mean or insulting (93.7% of respondents). [1]

The study also researched as to why people use the Snapchat application. The results suggested that Snapchat’s success is not due to it’s security properties, but because the users found the application to be fun. The researchers found that users seem to be well aware (79.4% of respondents) that recovering snaps is possible and a majority of users (52.8% of respondents) report that this does not affect their behavior and use of Snapchat. [1] Most users (52.8% of respondents) were found to use an arbitrary timeout length on snaps regardless of the content type or recipient. The remaining respondents were found to adjust their snaps timeout depending on the content or the recipient. [1] Reasons for adjusting the time length of snaps included the level of trust and relationship with the recipient, the time needed to comprehend the snap, and avoiding screenshots. [1]


Privacy and security[edit]


Snapchat’s privacy statement states Snapchat is “the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message – simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot!” [2] Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez commented on Snapchat’s privacy stating "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.” [3] The FTC claims Snapchat "made multiple misrepresentations" about the application, including the longevity of photos and videos users sent. The agency's complaint cites workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat's screenshot detection, as well as third-party apps that save photos or videos indefinitely. [3]

Snapchat is designed so that all photos and videos will disappear after a predetermined amount of time set by the sender. However, users have negotiated ways to keep photos after their intended time set. One of the primary ways Snapchat users keep photos is through taking a snapshot. A screenshot is when the user makes their own copy of the photo by taking a photo of their screen while the snap is showing. [2] Snapchats response to this potential privacy threat by the FTC is that when someone takes a screenshot of a snap, the sender is provided a notification. [4] However, the concern of the FTC is not only the possibility of screenshots, but also the workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat’s screenshot detection and applications that save photos or videos permanently. Many technology blogs online give a step-by-step walk-through of how to avoid detection and save snaps. The most popular way is through a variety of applications available on the App Store. The most well known applications are Snapkeep, SnapBox and SnapSpy. [4] Snapkeep integrates with the Snapchat application so that all unopened snaps are displayed. The snaps can then be saved to the users camera roll with the touch of one button. [4] SnapBox and SnapSpy are the same concept, but the applications function on a coin-based system, meaning that you must pay one coin for each snap you save. [4] Snapchats response to concerns over the potential for screenshots and saved snaps going undetected stated, "Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user." [2]

Snapchat settled with the FTC over these privacy and security claims and under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat will face independent monitoring for 20 years. Furthermore, the FTC claims that Snapchat is prohibited from "misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users' information." [3]

Government Compliance[edit]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a digital rights group that preforms annual surveys analyzing companies on several factors including government compliance. [5] On the 2014 report, Snapchat was only awarded one out of six possible stars for how it protects users data from government requests. [5] Nate Cardozo, an EFF lawyer, commented that "Snapchat joins AT&T and Comcast in failing to require a warrant for government access to the content of communications. That means the government can obtain extraordinarily sensitive information about your activities and communications without convincing a judge that there is probable cause to collect it.” [6] The report claims that this fact is troubling because of the nature of the extremely sensitive user data, like private photos, that Snapchat has. [5] The report recommended "Given the large number of users and nonusers whose photos end up on Snapchat, Snapchat should publicly commit to requiring a warrant before turning over the content of its users' communications to law enforcement. [5] In response, Snapchat denied the EFF's charge that it delivers information to the government without a warrant. Snapchat spokeswoman Mary Ritti commented that the company "routinely requires a search warrant when law enforcement requests user data." [5]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Roesner, Franziska, Brian T Gill, and Tadayoshi Kohno. “Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat's Self-Destructing Messages”. Financial Cryptography and Data Security Conference, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Cluley, Graham. "Does Snapchat offer safe sexting from smartphones, or a false sense of security?". Naked Security. 6 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Molina, Brett. “Snapchat settles privacy complaint with FTC”. USA Today. 8 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Rossignol, Joe. “How to screenshot Snapchat without sending notification”. iDownloadBlog. 3 May 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e Smith, Gerry. “Snapchat Isn't Standing Up For Your Privacy: Report”. Huffington Post. 16 May 2014.
  6. ^ Gibbs, Samuel. “Amazon and Snapchat rank low for protecting user data from government”. The Guardian. 16 May 2014.