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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.
People frequently use Snapchat to send messages back and forth with the understanding that those messages will disappear after a designated expiration time.
However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation and asserted charges that Snapchat messages actually do not vanish as promised. In the wake of those charges, Snapchat and the FTC have settled, according to a recent FTC press release.
So, what is the scoop? Read on.
Among other charges, the FTC took issue with how Snapchat touted the "ephemeral" aspect of "snaps," the photo and video messages sent using the Snapchat app. Snapchat represented as part of its marketing that snaps would "disappear forever" subsequent to the expiration of the sender-designated time period expired.
Notwithstanding Snapchat's representation to the public, the FTC, in a complaint, painted a different picture of how recipients actually can preserve snaps indefinitely. This is troubling on various levels -- including the likelihood that senders often send snaps spontaneously with embarrassing or incriminating images or actions with the belief that those snaps would vanish and therefore could not be used by anyone for further use.
According to the FTC, people can use third-party apps to log into the Snapchat service, and by doing so, they can view and save snaps as long as they want. Indeed, the FTC asserts that such third-party apps have been downloaded in millions of instances.
The FTC complaint details other alleged privacy violations by Snapchat. The FTC further alleges that despite Snapchat's promises of employing reasonable security steps, Snapchat's failures nevertheless have led to security breaches.
The FTC's press release states that as part of the settlement, Snapchat going forward will not misrepresent how it protects the privacy, security and confidentiality of user information. Also, Snapchat must institute a comprehensive privacy program -- a program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for 20 years.
The settlement takes the form of a consent order. The FTC unanimously accepted the consent order for public comment. The consent order is open for public comment until June 9. At that time, the FTC will decide whether or not to make the consent order final.
Snapchat most assuredly has learned some lessons from this FTC experience. And Internet users should continue be mindful as to how the behave in cyberspace. While users may believe that they are acting in relative private contexts, there are no absolute guarantees of privacy on the Internet.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.