The Blog

Snapchat's Big Lie to Americans

Which is worse: pursuing a scorched earth policy towards online privacy while claiming to "do no evil" or blatantly lying about yourself as an important online privacy application? I would vote for the latter.
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Which is worse: pursuing a scorched earth policy towards online privacy while claiming to "do no evil" or blatantly lying about yourself as an important online privacy application? I would vote for the latter and here's why. With the first methodology, you pull no punches, and somehow (though not obvious) your privacy policy explains that you are watching and reading and monetizing everything your members do. The public comes to know what you are and, while being offended, understands the philosophy you follow. The other methodology is egregious and unforgivable. By lying, you breach public trust, profit by deception, and when caught in the act, reveal yourself to be the snake in the grass that you are.

That leads me to Snapchat, the snake. The whole premise behind the popular mobile messaging service is the ephemeral nature of its videos. That's how they market themselves to the public, that's how they sold themselves to investors, and that's how they've differentiated themselves from other apps. Promoting that philosophy is how they carved out their market share. They're a privacy application and advocate all rolled into one.

Yeah, well, not so much. In fact, not at all. On Thursday, May 8, the Federal Trade Commission and Snapchat reached a settlement over the company falsely misrepresenting how messages sent through the company's app do not disappear as easily as promised -- in fact, perhaps not at all. Turns out there are several simple ways to save messages from the service after all. And many ways to retrieve them.

But that's not all. Furthermore, Snapchat collected and transmitted users' location information and collected sensitive data such as address book contacts. They did all of this despite claiming and promising otherwise. What makes this so egregious is the company knowingly lied, shined the lie as a beacon to the world, and then profited from it -- all from the comfy confines of its straw house. These guys lied about every aspect of privacy -- from photos that don't disappear to private data collection they were continuously doing. This is outrageous.

Don't be fooled into thinking people at Snapchat were unaware of this reality. The only thing they didn't know was when the curtain would fall on their blatant disregard for the public interest. But they didn't care. For the founders and funders of the company it was all about dollars and lies, at the expense of integrity. There are countless, disquieting ways that we know this. Any engineer worth his salt knows that the disappearing act they claimed was fraudulent from the get-go. Forensic investigators discovered this a year ago in a highly publicized report, but Snapchat remained mum. If the company was indeed fighting the good fight then it would not have quietly settled this case. Yet, instead, with multi-million dollar lawyers and legal budgets readily at hand they did everything they could to sweep this investigation and fine under the rug. The executives who designed and perpetrated this strategy on the public should be put in jail. Privacy is not a laughing matter -- it is dead serious, so much so that our founding fathers made it sacrosanct in our Constitution.

If you are Snapchat, do you come clean now or do you continue the slither? Any guesses? Snapchat's official response is to continue the deception. They have tried to save face in a cryptic blog where it discussed what it refers to as the "FTC agreement." First of all, there's a semantic difference between a settlement and an agreement. An agreement implies the company was willingly working with the FTC, which it was not. They waited and stalled until they had no other choice. Secondly, in the blog, the company claims disbelievingly that "some things didn't get the attention they could have." That Snapchat continues to feign such ignorance is theatre of the utter absurd. Since when are our Fourth Amendment rights lumped under the meaningless category of "some things?" In addition, the blog goes on to claim that the company continues "to invest heavily in security and countermeasures to prevent abuse." The settlement would lead us to believe this is another lie. Snapchat's inability to deliver more specific details further places it under the umbrella of mistrust that it continues to sell to the public.

Fool me once, Snapchat, shame on you. Fool me twice if I fall for such a meaningless response and open violation of my right to privacy, than shame on me. We the public however, will not buy such a misleading bag of goods. I am proud to be an American, and blessed to have been born in a republic which cherishes the right to privacy. Snapchat does not deserve the right to exist in our great country.