What Snapchat's Latest Privacy Update Actually Means For You

Snapchat's doing damage control after a controversial update to its user agreement. Here's a guide to what the company's really saying.

Every time a tech service poorly communicates changes to its Terms of Service or Privacy Policy, the users of its platform lose. This weekend, it was Snapchat's turn. 

The ephemeral messaging startup added some new features to its app on Oct. 28 and quietly updated its terms for using the service. After various news outlets dove into the text of the new policies and reported on some of the broadly worded changes, people became concerned that Snapchat was reserving the right to store and use people's private selfies and nude photos, even after that content disappeared from users' devices. 

But Snapchat disagrees with the public's interpretation of its new terms and is now trying to calm people down by clarifying some of the changes.

Part of the confusion here stems from the fact that virtually no one reads the terms or privacy policies for the apps they download. It's far easier to tap a button saying you agree than to slog through those dense forms. 

Another reason people got angry is that Snapchat, which claims to have over 100 million daily active users, didn't write a blog post, send an email or tweet about the changes to its user agreement. The company spoke up only after a backlash erupted on social media. 

On Sunday, Snapchat published a post on Tumblr about "protecting your privacy" in which it tried to debunk rumors that it was storing private snaps. It also highlighted the post in a tweet that night. 

"We never want to create any misunderstanding about our commitment to user privacy and we're going to keep working to communicate that to our community," a Snapchat spokesperson told The Huffington Post on Monday.

Below, we read between the lines of Snapchat's blog post to explain what's really going on with the updated Terms of Service.

Snapchat: "There’s been some confusion about the updated Privacy Policy and Terms of Service we rolled out last week. We never want to create any misunderstanding over our commitment to protecting your privacy.

Translation: A lot of Snapchat users read our update and freaked out. We’re under a consent decree from the Federal Trade Commission, so if we don’t get this right, we could be in hot water with the federal government. We used to claim that we didn't collect location data, but we do. So now we have to list all of the data we collect about you in our privacy Policy. We may use "cookies and other technologies, such as web beacons, web storage, and unique device identifiers." (If you want to learn what a "web beacon" is, though, or how the technique for tracking users works, you'll need to Google it.)

Snapchat: "First off, we want to be crystal clear: The Snaps and Chats you send your friends remain as private today as they were before the update. Our Privacy Policy continues to say—as it did before—that those messages “are automatically deleted from our servers once we detect that they have been viewed or have expired.” Of course, a recipient can always screenshot or save your Snaps or Chats."

Translation: After the FTC cracked down, we worked on addressing the complaint, cutting off access to the third-party apps that were saving updates. People can still take screenshots of your snaps or use other apps to record videos, though, so we can't claim that your snaps are more private now without getting in trouble with the feds.

Snapchat: "But the important point is that Snapchat is not—and never has been—stockpiling your private Snaps or Chats. And because we continue to delete them from our servers as soon as they’re read, we could not—and do not—share them with advertisers or business partners.

Translation: We're relying on young people trusting us not to leak their private messages, so people freaking out over us keeping your snaps is a huge business risk. Users might still find ways to save your private messages, but we aren’t. Unless our business model changes, we won’t share them with advertisers. 

Snapchat: "It’s true that our Terms of Service grant us a broad license to use the content you create—a license that’s common to services like ours. We need that license when it comes to, for example, Snaps submitted to Live Stories, where we have to be able to show those Stories around the world—and even replay them or syndicate them (something we’ve said we could do in previous versions of our Terms and Privacy Policy). But we tried to be clear that the Privacy Policy and your own privacy settings within the app could restrict the scope of that license so that your personal communications continue to remain truly personal."

Translation: Yes, our new Privacy Policy really does let us store and reuse your photos if you add them to a public "Live Story," where users send snaps directly to us to create a crowdsourced documentary of an event. We're making a lot of money from selling ads on Live Stories and want to make a lot more, so we want you to feel good about contributing free content to us. If you don't want us to use your pictures or videos, you shouldn't submit them to this section.

Snapchat:  "You may wonder why we revised the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Here are a few of the key reasons:"

Translation: We did a poor job of explaining this when we rolled it out. Now that you're all freaking out, let's try again.

Snapchat: "The main thing we did was to rewrite the Terms and Privacy Policy so that they’d read the way people actually talk. We always try to be upfront and clear with our community."

Translation: We haven't actually changed that much. We just made how we're using your snaps clearer, but once we did that, you all got really upset

Snapchat: "We added language to the Terms of Service regarding in-app purchases. We needed to do that now that we’re selling Replays—and have some other cool products and services we’re looking forward to bringing to you soon."

Translation: The feature where you can pay us to replay a message is going well, and we're planning on expanding ways to give us money, so we needed to make the rules clearer, with clauses like "it’s your sole responsibility to manage your in-app purchases." That means if you run up a huge credit card bill watching funny pictures or intimate videos from your ex again and again, it's not our fault. If you're under 18, you should really talk with your parents about buying things in apps, because we're going to be trying to sell you more, soon. 

Snapchat: "To make it a little easier for friends to find you on Snapchat, we’ve clarified what info—like your name—will be visible to other Snapchatters and how you can modify that info." 

Translation: We want to help your friends find you on Snapchat, so our updated Privacy Policy now lets us show them your real name when they search for you. We also might show them the names of users you are friends with, along with anything else you've told us you're OK with making public. If you want to keep your relationships on Snapchat private, you might want to look into this.

This post has been updated with a comment from a Snapchat spokesperson.

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