Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, then Stanford University students. Using the application, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. These sent photographs and videos are known as “Snaps”. Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps after which they will be hidden from the recipient’s device and deleted from Snapchat’s servers.
The app’s users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. The company has a valuation of $10–$20 billion depending on various sources.
During the viewing period, the recipient must maintain contact with the device’s touchscreen, thereby hindering the user’s ability to take a screenshot, which is allowed. The sender is also notified by Snapchat if a recipient takes a screenshot.
However, it is possible for the user to bypass this mechanism by, for example, taking a picture of the phone with another camera, or by disabling the notification function through a modification of the Snapchat binary; furthermore, running the Snapchat application in an emulator will bypass all restrictions. After the set time expires, the image is deleted from the devices and the company’s servers.
On May 9, 2013, Snapchat’s blog responded to the speculation regarding the retrieval of its app’s images: If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted.
Snapchat Tips & Tricks
Snapchat launched the “Snapchat Stories” feature in early October 2013 and released corresponding video advertisements with the tagline “It’s about time.” The feature allows users to create links of shared content that can be viewed an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period. The “stories” are simultaneously shared with the user’s friends and content remains for 24 hours before disappearing.
On May 1, 2014, new messaging and video chat features were added to Snapchat. The new messaging features, which allow users to send text to other users and save text messages by clicking on them, were described by Spiegel as “conversational,” rather than “transactional,” as he sought to replicate the conversations he engaged in with friends.
In October 2014, hackers got their hands on at least 100,000 supposedly deleted Snapchat images. The hack – being called “The Snappening” – reportedly rivals that of the iCloud breach that recently targeted celebrities. In a press statement, Snapchat confirmed the images in question came from third-party sites but denied hackers had breached the site’s servers.
Snapchat’s privacy statement states Snapchat is “the fastest way to share a moment with friends. You control how long your friends can view your message – simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send. They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot!”
Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez commented on Snapchat’s privacy stating “If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises.” The FTC claims Snapchat “made multiple misrepresentations” about the application, including the longevity of photos and videos users sent. The agency’s complaint cites workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat’s screenshot detection, as well as third-party apps that save photos or videos indefinitely.
Snapchat is designed so that all photos and videos will disappear after a predetermined amount of time set by the sender. However, users have negotiated ways to keep photos after their intended time set. One of the primary ways Snapchat users keep photos is through taking a screenshot. A screenshot is when the user makes their own copy of the photo by taking a photo of their screen while the snap is showing. Snapchat’s response to this potential privacy breach is to notify the sender.
However, the concern of the FTC is not only the possibility of screenshots, but also the workarounds users employ to avoid Snapchat’s screenshot detection and applications that save photos or videos permanently. Many technology blogs online give a step-by-step walk-through of how to avoid detection and save snaps. The most popular way is through a variety of applications available on the App Store.
The most well-known applications are Snapkeep, SnapBox and SnapSpy. Snapkeep integrates with the Snapchat application so that all unopened snaps are displayed. The snaps can then be saved to the user’s camera roll with the touch of one button. SnapBox and SnapSpy are the same concepts, but the applications function on a coin-based system, meaning that you must pay one coin for each snap you save.
Additionally, photographs or video recordings may be taken using a second device of a snap displayed by Snapchat. Snapchat’s response to concerns over the potential for screenshots and saved snaps going undetected stated, “Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.”