I live a double life. By day, I am a software developer, living in a world where your choice of hoodie, afternoon beer, and text editor mark your rank within the social tribe. At night, my mousy ponytail comes down and the Givenchy Rouge goes on as I fire up my snowball microphone and HD webcam. No doubt, I’m probably getting naked for guys whose open source code I use day to day in my projects. I’m a tech geek and proud cam model. That’s why last month’s Federal Trade Commission ruling that the popular photo sharing mobile app Snapchat deceived its users has me fuming.
The story of Snapchat reads like the typical Silicon Valley tech bromance novel. Founded by Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel when they were students at Stanford and living in the school’s Kappa Sigma fraternity house, the early years of Snapchat are chronicled in Forbes. They were frat-bro misogynists with little regard for the women of Stanford, illustrated by some emails obtained by Valleywag that Spiegel sent to his Kappa Sigma brothers which included the term “sororisluts.”
Snapchat’s main value proposition is that the app allows users to send mobile photos that are secure and which are deleted from the recipient’s phone after one viewing. However, the FTC found that the app is not secure at all. The FTC’s ruling details that the company failed to communicate security holes to users. These security holes include a hacker security breach, a recipient’s ability to take a screenshot of a photo without notifying the sender, and the fact that images were not deleted after a recipient opened them. According to a press release from the FTC, “Snapchat deceptively told its users that the sender would be notified if a recipient took a screenshot of a snap. In fact, any recipient with an Apple device that has an operating system pre-dating iOS 7 can use a simple method to evade the app’s screenshot detection, and the app will not notify the sender.” The FTC also found that Snapchat “tracked and transmitted some users’ location information and collected data from their address books without consent.” Although many users who trusted Snapchat with their private photos were surprised to learn about the FTC’s findings, the history of the company points to a disregard for user security almost from the start.