Security

When Snapchats become mugshots: Cops can see your ‘private’ pics

Above: They're laughing at your last Snapchat

Sending a Snapchat, at this point, is like sending a photo over regular text message. People you don’t want viewing your private pics are still going to see them — even the cops.

For those unfamiliar, Snapchat lets users send photos called Snaps that expire after 30 seconds (once you’ve opened them), so you can share your private or embarrassing photos without leaving them out in the ether indefinitely.

The company “revealed” — I put this in quotations because, to me, this is obvious — that unopened Snaps can and have been handed over to law enforcement as part of criminal investigations (as long as the cops have a warrant). This includes your photos, videos, and the company’s new feature – “Stories.” Stories can be pulled from a server even after they have been opened given that they expire after 24-hours.

How can this be when Snaps are designed to disappear forever?

Snapchat runs all your photos and videos through its servers before delivering them to the recipient. While waiting to be opened and viewed, Snaps sit on that server, accessible by a special tool only chief technology officer Bobby Murphy and Micah Schaffer, who runs Snapchat’s trust and safety department, have access to.

There are over 350 million Snaps that run through the system daily, according to Snapchat, and a dozen requests for Snaps have been fulfilled since May 2013.

It’s apparent that you can’t truly believe your Snaps will remain under lock and key. First off, the people you send your Snaps to can take screenshots of the photos, so they may not disappear at all. Beyond that there are even products made to save this content. Snaphack is one of these, as noted by NBC.

That said, I doubt this kind of news will make even the smallest dent in the app’s usage. People sending pics of criminal activities may think twice, but otherwise Snapchat seems to have one thing really going for it: a strong community. A good number of my peers — mid-twenties young professionals — who use Snapchat say it legitimately keeps them in touch with friends and family.

It’s a form of novel entertainment. None of them trust the service for its “privacy” merits; it’s just another social network that connects people through a funny premise: Send me a picture with your eyelids inverted and I’ll send you one of my double-chin.

And hey, as long as they don’t mind those photos ending up just about anywhere — including the courtroom — then more power to them.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Snapchat is a photo messaging application developed by four Stanford students. Using the app, users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Users set a time limit for how... read more »

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