Snapchat Reaches Settlement With FTC Over User Agreement Woes
May 9, 2014

Snapchat Reaches Settlement With FTC Over User Agreement Woes

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Snapchat has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission after a federal complaint alleged that the popular photo messaging service made false promises that photos were being deleted in a timely manner. The FTC complaint alleged that the issue was not in line with what was outlined in the company’s user agreement.

According to an FTC statement, the main complaint stems from the fact that photo messages remained stored on the recipient’s device, though located in an inaccessible folder. The FTC complaint also noted that Snapchat knew that photo messages said to have disappeared were in fact not off the recipient’s phone and made no effort to alert users in a proper manner.

Snapchat posted about the settlement on its blog, though its statement was brief and did not go into detail about the exact charges or how it intended to remedy the complaint.

"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 said.

"While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have. One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community. This morning we entered into a consent decree with the FTC that addresses concerns raised by the commission. Even before today’s consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications. And we continue to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse," Snapchat said.

"We are devoted to promoting user privacy and giving Snapchatters control over how and with whom they communicate. That’s something we’ve always taken seriously, and always will," Snapchat concluded.

The FTC was more specific in its claims, stating that Snapchat made multiple misrepresentations to consumers. The FTC said that the product description is in stark contrast to how it actually works.

“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.”

Additional allegations from the FTC in the Snapchat complaint include that the company stored video snaps unencrypted on the recipient's device, which was in a location outside the app's "sandbox;" the FTC alleges that recipients were able to connect their device to a computer to recover the files; The FTC states that Snapchat has been deceptive with its users, saying that the sender would be notified when a recipient takes a screenshot of a snap, though older versions of iOS can evade the screenshot detection.

The company also misrepresented its data collection practices, according to the FTC's findings. It said Snapchat transmitted geolocation information from users on its Android app, though the privacy policy said it did not track such data.

The FTC also believes that Snapchat did not take responsible security measures to fix its "Find Friends" feature, which let hackers access the contact list of Snapchat users. The flaw was identified by Gibson Security, who notified Snapchat directly. When Snapchat did not respond to the notification, Gibson Security publicly posted the details of the security flaw. Before the flaw was addressed hackers did in fact harvest details of 4.6 million Snapchat accounts.