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Snapchat tells FTC that your private photos never actually got deleted

12 May 2014, 6:58 am EDT By Mike Lata Tech Times
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Snapchat was caught with its pants down by the FTC misrepresenting its customers. It billed itself as a private photo and video sharing app that allowed users send images that disappeared shortly after use, but it wasn't actually so.  ( YouTube )

The FTC has caught Snapchat creators in a bind due to their false promises of security and privacy. The company apparently lied to its customers and was caught with its pants down. Due to this, a recent false-claim ruling was settled due to the misrepresentations coming from the company.

The company billed its service as a way for friends, particularly teenagers it was marketed to, can share photos or short videos that disappear within seconds after being viewed (due to sender's discretion of time length). The idea that permanent records of images wouldn't stay on a server or the recipient's cache caused many users to send embarrassing or explicit photos. So when the company was caught lying it was a big deal to many users who compromised their private lives.

Many non-tech-savvy users thought that their photos are private and secure from preying eyes, so the company definitely has some explaining to do. In essence, it relied on the fact that because the photos disappear from the sender's mobile devices once sent to them, users thought they were secure from anyone else looking at them.

"It looks like it's gone," security expert Nico Sell said. "If you don't understand the underlying technology of the Internet, and aren't thinking about what is going on behind the scenes, it looks like it disappeared."

The fact of the matter is that photos or videos sent using Snapchat could be recovered on a user's phone through tricks or hacks. The workaround involves another app, called Poke. Also deceiving was the fact that Snapchat secretly collected users' private information through the "Find Friends" feature, which included contact information and location data. The company settled with the FTC and promises to be more forthcoming with its user base in the future.

Of course, for anyone who is Internet-savvy, taking photos that would be too compromising or revealing and sending them even via a service such as Snapchat as it was advertised, would not be secure. Not only would traces of who and where the images were sent from be retrievable (via the user's IP or Mac numbers), but someone could quickly take a screenshot before it disappears anyway.

So when a technology bills itself as the new private and cool thing to take part of, always be wary of its claims. In this day and age, not much you broadcast online or send out to friends can be secure for long.

"Even when something is deleted from a device or a computer, it doesn't completely delete," Sell said. "Your SMS - if you were to delete a text, I could still get it off the phone. It's in the trash."

Apparently, the settlement wasn't too harsh on the Los Angeles-based startup, as it is getting a "slap on the wrist." It will now have to rely on independent auditors to inspect it for the next 20 years.

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