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Snapchat, Whisper promise privacy but fail (miserably) to deliver

Matt Kapko | Oct. 23, 2014
Social media apps that promise ephemeral communications or true anonymity frequently fail to live up to all meaningful expectations.

Social media apps that promise ephemeral communications or true anonymity frequently fail to live up to all meaningful expectations.

User locations are tracked without permission. "Disappearing" photos and messages are hacked in massive numbers. Users who thought they were communicating anonymously are discovered and linked to their real identities.

That's just the start of the laundry list of allegations against services including Snapchat and Whisper. If there is a lesson to be learned from the past few months, it's that nothing disappears forever, and people are often tracked by the apps they willingly use every day.

Privacy in the era of social media is a promise left unfulfilled. The events of the past couple of months make this abundantly clear. In almost every case, the companies place the onus of managing, maintaining and securing privacy entirely on users.

Last month's hack of more than 100 celebrities' personal iCloud accounts spotlights the inherent vulnerability of Web-based services, regardless of the company in charge. Apple accurately claimed that it wasn't hacked, but the personal accounts of some of its most high-profile users were overtaken. 

Snapchat Hack Exposes More Than 260,000 Users

Snapchat is again in the privacy crosshairs barely a month after the iCloud debacle. Another anonymous hacker claims to have gained access to Snapsaved, a third-party app that lets Snapchat users save the pictures they receive via the service before they self-destruct. 

Some estimates suggest more than 260,000 Snapchat users were compromised. Snapchat quickly distanced itself from the snafu by claiming it's not at fault if users share their login details with outside parties. 

The company later followed up with a blog post that outlined its opposition to third-party apps, but it did little to stop the bleeding or effectively shut down such apps. Instead, Snapchat blamed its users.

From the blog post: 

"When you give your login credentials to a third-party application, you're allowing a developer, and possibly a criminal, to access your account information and send information on your behalf."

Snapchat did not respond to a request for further comment. 

Overall, the response is woefully lacking for a company that already settled charges with the FTC over the amount of data it collects and in relation to false promises about the disappearance of messages sent through its app. Snapchat owes its users a more deliberate mechanism to ensure privacy, especially because more than half of its users are under the age of 18.

The company says it's working with Google and Apple to remove apps from their app stores that use Snapchat's API. The real questions: Why are these apps able to access the API? Why is there an API at all? Snapchat says it plans to release a public API for developers but until then, "any application that isn't ours but claims to offer Snapchat services violates our terms of use and can't be trusted."


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