Snaps Behind Your Back

What Snapchat Actually Has Access To


Ms. Walsh

Danielle Nelson, Head Writer

Recent updates on Snapchat have left users questioning their safety and privacy. The app that can be found on the phones of over 100 million people was originally created by Evan Speigel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown who attended Stanford University. The intention behind the popular program was to send and receive pictures which, once opened, would disappear creating a more natural interaction than over text. As most users would know, the photos only appear for a maximum of ten seconds and cannot be screenshotted without alerting the sender. The only exception is when users add a photo to their story and it stays for 24 hours, however during that time the photo still cannot be screenshotted without alerting.

Or can they? Just like with any other popular form of media, hackers and average users looked for any loophole around the screenshot notification. Buzzfeed recently discovered a bug that allows people to save snapchat videos. Through this bug, someone will open a photo or video on their smartphone and access it later through the file browser on their computer.

On January 22, long before the newly discovered scandal from Buzzfeed, a student web designer and hacker by the name of Raj Vir also came across an easy three step loophole. The hack doesn’t require anything beyond the phone itself and is completely possible due to how iOS detects screenshots.

Although our trials have found that this hack does not work between every phone, it does work when the screenshotter has a phone other than Android or iPhone and there was zero trace of evidence. This means that when an iPhone user sent a snapchat to someone with a phone such as an LTC that followed the three simple steps utilizing only the lock button and home button, the iPhone user was completely unaware that the very same snapchat they had just sent was now in the recipient’s camera roll.

People are coming up with more and more ways to get around the original privacy barriers every day. In addition to the actions of the users, the company itself adds small bits and pieces of a laxed privacy policy in the terms and conditions of each update. Snapchat users are beginning to gain awareness that the app no longer offers or contains the full-proof privacy it once did.

On September 27, Snapchat released its most recent privacy policy. Of course, the company begins with the attractions behind the app and why anyone would want to use it. After reading the cheerful into, most users have already checked the “I agree” box. However, that’s when the policy gets into detail.

Snapchat divides the information they collect into three groups; information you choose to give, information they get when you use their services, and information they get from third parties.

The information you choose to give them consists of things such as your username, password, email address, phone number, and birthday. Other services may require you to provide your debit or credit card information, however that is more optional. Certainly, all the snapchats you send to your friends are also under this category and are collected, yes, all of them. After explaining that they collect your photos, Snapchat gives out a warning not to “send messages or share content you wouldn’t want someone to save or share.”

The information they get when you use their services is fairly long and includes; which filters you use or apply, what channels you watch on the “Discover” portion of the app, whatever you search, the names of who you communicate with, when you communicate with someone, the amount of messages you send, and of course when you open or screenshot a message or picture. That’s not all they collect in this category, that’s only what they highlight. If users keep reading they will find out that Snapchat also collects your device information, location information, IP address and access times, and finally your camera information.

The company elaborates that “you won’t be able to send Snaps or upload photos from your camera roll unless we can access your camera or photos”.

Although snapchat is unlikely to use your camera when you are not on the app, users often forget that they will have access to it at any time. Whenever snapchat is turned on in the background, the app is able to view your camera regardless of whether you are aware.

The information which they collect from third parties includes the things other users provide about you when they use the app. Mainly, this focuses on the contacts of users.

After users read the privacy policy, their biggest question is “What do they do with my information?” Snapchat uses it to improve their services, communicate with you, analyze trends, personalize the app for you, tagging your Memories content with precise location, improve ad targeting, enhance safety, verify your identity, and overall enforce the Terms of Service for the app.

None of the things Snapchat uses your personal information for is particularly concerning, until you realize just how many people will acquire your information in some form. Other users have access to your username and “score”, and the general public can see your snapcode and profile pictures.

However, this is where things get concerning again. Snapchat’s privacy policy states that they may share your information with their affiliates and third parties, yet they never specify what information is given to them other than that it is for “legal reasons” if they believe the content complies with valid legal process. They also state that they share the information to third parties with intent to enforce violations to the Terms and Services, protect the rights of users, and detect any security or fraud concerns.

The privacy policy does not exactly give enough information to make users feel safe about who is viewing their pictures and handling their location. However, snapchat does include a portion about how long they retain your images. Snapchat claims to delete the photos you send to your friends immediately after they’ve been opened or expired. Some exceptions to this statement are when they are added to a story, where they will be kept slightly longer and also when they are added to a live story, where they can be retained indefinitely. With this, it is important to remember that even if Snapchat truly does delete snaps shortly following the send time, that is not to say they have not already been seen by or sent to multiple people.

Most users are not completely familiar with the amount of personal information the Snapchat company has access to, when they can access it, what they can do with it, how long they keep it, and where it goes after they delete it. Although it cannot be confirmed what happens to your pictures after they have been removed from Snapchat’s database, it is highly likely that the photos have already been sent elsewhere and do not truly vanish after ten seconds.

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