Snapchat: Self-Destruct Content or Disappearing Privacy Statement

The new kid on the block, “Snapchat”, boasts of about 500 million users sharing over 400 million photos a day. From rejecting a $3 billion takeover bid by Facebook Inc. late last year, to exposing its privacy features by posting username and corresponding telephone numbers of 4.6 million users on the web earlier this year, Snapchat has certainly managed to get among the headlines. The young owners of Snapchat are certainly dreaming big. A dream that one hopes is not an illusion, as forgoing a multi-billion dollar proposal like this implies the arrival of ground- breaking innovation in coming times. But for now, let us just concentrate on the facts.

Since its inception, Snapchat has marketed itself as a more personal and private alternative to Facebook or Instagram. The USP of this not-just-one-of-its-kind app is its ability to self-destruct content, which makes it a hot favourite among users who are finicky about public display of photos and videos they share with friends. Before striking a chord with mass users, this self-destruct feature built its reputation as a favourite tool for the so-called prurient individuals who send sexually suggestive photos and were confident of retaining their identity.

The images or videos are not completely destroyed, and are believed to be stored somewhere in the app’s database as encrypted files. Moreover these files largely rely upon the mercy of the receiver’s handset’s operating system and auto-save settings. As Android (the most commonly used OS these days) is an open market OS, it provides tremendous scope for altering the settings of any application. Snapchat is predominantly an app and not a platform, and thus more vulnerable to data security.

While the self-destruct feature of the app is still debatable, another very important privacy aspect has also been compromised. Since the personal identity of 4.6 million users was flamboyantly brandished on the internet, the quantification of risk associated with apps that use phone numbers to identify users has increased substantially. The phone number narrows down the trail to the personal identity of the user and poses a far greater risk of identity theft. So while one can feel happy to be connected, you also compromise on identity protection.

The owners and developers are working overtime to check the damage and are rolling out updates to reinstate user confidence. By allowing users to opt out of the “Find Friends” feature, which was regarded as the basis of the breach, this is a step in the right direction. It is highly recommended that clicking the “I Agree” tab of the privacy document is not just a mere formality to continue installation, it should also hold true to its meaning. We are thankful to the hackers for exposing the flaws and to the developers for always finding ways to thrive.