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Privacy watchdog EPIC files complaint against Snapchat with FTC

May 17, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • A watchdog group has filed a complaint against Snapchat with the FTC, asking it to investigate the mobile app company and require it to improve its data security.
A watchdog group has filed a complaint against Snapchat with the FTC, asking… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- A privacy watchdog group is going after Snapchat for deceiving users about self-destructing messages that don't actually self-destruct.

The smartphone app has become popular with young people for sending messages that a few seconds later disappear. That clever disappearing act has made the Los Angeles start-up a hit with users and some prominent investors in Silicon Valley.

But it turns out that photos sent over Snapchat have a longer shelf life than people think. They don't vanish -- at least not entirely -- and can be retrieved in some cases.

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Friday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

"Snapchat is the app that promises to delete photos but it doesn't," said Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director. "We have no problem with apps that make photos vanish. But they should work as promised, and if they don't the Federal Trade Commission should investigate."

Snapchat does warn users in its privacy statement: "Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is received and opened by the recipient ... we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case."

Snapchat's vice president of communications Mary Ritti said in an emailed statement: "There seems to be some confusion from those who do not use Snapchat about the intent and spirit of the Snapchat community. Snapchat is a fun and creative way to share a moment in the moment. There have always been ways to save snaps, not the least of which would be to take a screenshot or a picture with another device. We do not intend to make any further comment about this complaint."

EPIC is asking the FTC to investigate Snapchat and to require the company to "improve its data security practices, and specifically to ensure that photos and videos are in fact deleted such that they cannot subsequently be obtained by others."

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