“OH SNAP”chat…you could see that?

Most people up to date with the latest social media platforms know about one of the hottest apps on the market: Snapchat. When Stanford University students Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown created the photo-sharing app in 2011 as part of a class project, they did not realize the phenomenal entity they brought into the technological world. Snapchat provides a way for users to send personalized photos and videos to a controlled set of recipients for a specific, allotted amount of time. In a 2012 raving review of the app in Forbes magazine, J.J Colao said:

“Users can take the ugliest, silliest, most compromising photos they want, usually in the form of a “selfie” or a self-taken picture of oneself. After sending them to friends, those photos then disappear, forever, in 1-10 seconds. It’s private, instant and fleeting, more an extension of texting than a social network rival to Instagram.”

The “snaps” seemingly disappear after the set time limit, making users feel comfortable to send embarrassing, funny, and personal photos without fear of the revelation of their true offline selves. What do you think Dana Boyd, Alice Marwick, or Draper would say about that?! The authors both describe how people monitor their reputations and construct their identities on social mediated publics because they are aware that digital information can be replicated, searched, and accessed by anyone. The Snapchat team presents a platform that makes it seem like the data will disappear, but only the informed user will realize that that’s not how the digital world functions. ABC News featured a piece with security expert and app designer Nico Sell about the truth behind Snapchat in May 2014:

“It looks like it’s gone…if you don’t understand the underlying technology of the Internet, and aren’t thinking about what is going on behind the scenes, it looks like it disappeared.”

Sell then explained that most “deleted” posts lurk on servers far after they are supposedly removed. After accusations by the Federal Trade Commission that Snapchat was deceiving its users and collecting private information about users, the company admitted that users could save a friends photo by taking screenshots or using third-party apps.


While it is now known that snaps can be saved through the screen shot feature, most users do not know that Snapchat has recently released its first transparency report, revealing that the company complied with 92% of 403 government requests for user data information, including search warrants and subpoenas. The future reports will list governmental requests to change or take down content, and Team Snapchat says:

“While the vast majority of Snapchatters use Snapchat for fun, it’s important that law enforcement is able to investigate illegal activity. We want to be clear that we comply with valid legal requests.Privacy and security are core values here at Snapchat and we strongly oppose any initiative that would deliberately weaken the security of our systems. We’re committed to keeping your data secure and we will update this report bi-annually.”

While “privacy and security” may be the “core” values of Snapchat, some users might have an issue with the government potentially screening their private, intimate snaps. Government surveillance could go against the perceived core intent of Snapchat, which most would say is to allow a place for users to feel safe sharing themselves. However, as Rebecca MacKinnon makes clear in her book, “Consent of the Networked”, the government and corporations often have far more control over our information than users might perceive. There is not really that much of a difference between corporate dataveillance and government surveillance, and this instance provides a great example of the collaboration between entities. While I am glad that Snapchat wants to keep its users safe, uniformed users may be unaware of that it is still possible for unintended audiences to see their data. Snapchat’s revelation and use of users information reiterates many of the important ideas of MacKinnon and the many authors we have discussed throughout Digital Media. Users need to be informed and understand that once they agree to the Terms and Services, corporations have the ability to access their information. Unfortunately, it’s the price one has to pay to participate and remain active in the latest social media.


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