Snapchat Dinged by FTC

Failure to Enforce Promised Privacy Leads to FTC Enforcement of Snapchat

Snapchat is all about privacy. The whole purpose of the program is to completely delete the message or picture sent. It’s the very basis of the app and is what led to its incredible popularity. But today, in a deal with the FTC, Snapchat’s inability to actually provide any privacy was exposed. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to delete something on the internet. So much so, that Snapchat was not actually doing it despite advertising that messages would be deleted forever. In addition, it seems that they had been ignoring data security problems, despite repeated warnings, leading up to a hacker breach in December which exposed user’s names and phone numbers.

In a blog post, Snapchat commented that it had been focusing too much on growth, but was learning from its mistakes. “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.” The important thing to note is that they updated the privacy policy and legal descriptions, not the app. In other words, they nuanced their promises about privacy, but did not actually fix the technical issues surrounding the app’s inability to fully delete messages.

While it’s unclear whether this will hurt Snapchat, it seems unlikely. There have been easy work-arounds to Snapchat posted all over the internet. It’s common knowledge among its users. Yet that has not prevented significant investment in the company or last year’s offer by Facebook to purchase the company for about $3 billion. Snapchat turned that offer down, believing they could make more.

The lesson here goes back to privacy policies. As the FTC stated, “If you make promises about privacy, you must honor those promises or otherwise risk FTC enforcement.” So review your privacy policies and compare them to your data protection procedures. If they do not match, then one or the other needs to change.

Wall Street Journal – Snapchat Settles FTC Charges