Sean Gallup/Getty Images
On Thursday, the photo messaging service Snapchat settled charges from the Federal Trade Commission that the company misrepresented how it maintains the privacy of its users.
Snapchat's appeal is its ephemeral nature: You send a contact photos or video with a time limit, and once that's over, the image disappears. At least, that's what is supposed to happen; the FTC says that the messages, or snaps, can be saved via third party apps or by a user taking screenshots. Further, The New York Times reports, the FTC also accused the company of collecting sensitive personal data, including address book contacts, despite promising otherwise.
"One thing we want to make clear," said Chris Olsen, the assistant director of the FTC's division of privacy and identity protection. "If you make promises about privacy, you must honor those promises or otherwise risk FTC enforcement."
Under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat must start a privacy program and will be independently monitored for the next 20 years. If the company violates the agreement, it will be fined.
Hopefully this settlement will serve as a reminder to everyone that once an image is transmitted into cyberspace, there's no telling what can happen. "The internet is forever, and people don't realize that," security expert Nico Sell tells The Times. "You think you can delete a tweet or a Facebook post, but it doesn't go away. Most people don't know how hard it is to make a message disappear." And Sell should know — he's co-founder of Wickr, one of Snapchat's rivals in the timed-self-destruct messaging business.