FTC Approves Final Order Settling Charges Against Snapchat
by Carol Thompson
Following a public comment period, the Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order settling charges that Snapchat deceived consumers with promises about the disappearing nature of messages sent through the service.
According to the FTC’s complaint, which was first announced in May, 2014, Snapchat also deceived consumers over the amount of personal data it collected and the security measures taken to protect that data from misuse and unauthorized disclosure. The vulnerabilities of Snapchat’s measures were put on display last New Year’s Eve when the company fell victim to a cyberattack that resulted in millions of usernames and phone numbers being divulged.
The settlement with Snapchat is part of the FTC’s ongoing effort to ensure that companies market their apps truthfully and keep their privacy promises to consumers. It prohibits Snapchat from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information. In addition, the company will be required to implement a comprehensive privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years, according to a press release issued by the consumer protection agency.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Snapchat made multiple misrepresentations to consumers about its product that stood in stark contrast to how the app actually worked.
“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,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.”
Touting the “ephemeral” nature of “snaps,” the term used to describe photo and video messages sent via the app, Snapchat marketed the app’s central feature as the user’s ability to send snaps that would “disappear forever” after the sender-designated time period expired. Despite Snapchat’s claims, the complaint describes several simple ways that recipients could save snaps indefinitely.
Consumers could, for example, use third-party apps to log into the Snapchat service, according to the complaint. Because the service’s deletion feature only functions in the official Snapchat app, recipients can use these widely available third-party apps to view and save snaps indefinitely. Indeed, such third-party apps have been downloaded millions of times, according to the FTC. Despite a security researcher warning the company about this possibility, the complaint alleges, Snapchat continued to misrepresent that the sender controls how long a recipient can view a snap.
Snapchat wasn’t fined for the violations.