Snapchat agreed today to settle charges by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that messages sent through the online messaging service do not actually "disappear" as the company has claimed. The FTC alleged that Snapchat misled consumers as to how it functioned.
Specifically, the complaint stated that the messages did not disappear as claimed, and that there are several ways to save messages and videos sent via Snapchat. In addition, the complaint alleged that the company was not honest with consumers regarding the amount of personal data it collected or its security measures and that it shared the location of users.
Snapchat agreed not to misrepresent the disappearing nature of its messages as part of its settlement.
I raised my concerns about Snapchat more than a year ago. Since last May, I've been saying that Snapchat images and messages do not get deleted or disappear and, like most everything else posted on the internet, they can live forever.
I love being right, but it's actually not all that satisfying in this instance. Why doesn't the fact that Snapchat settles charges by the FTC make me happy?
1. This feels like too little, WAY too late.
The government failed to move quickly on this. I said in May 2013 that Snapchat was misleading consumers, which include a LOT of minors, so it's been known by pretty much everyone (except for those who are in denial, quite gullible, or too young to know better) for a full year, and yet nothing was done about it. Think of what has been shared on Snapchat in that amount of time, in addition to the fact that there was a security breach that enabled attackers to compile a database of 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers.
A New York Times article explains that Snapchat is essentially on probation and will be required to implement a privacy program that will be monitored for 20 years and "[f]ines could ensue if the company violates the agreement."
Snapchat blatantly lied to consumers for an extended period time over several different matters, disclosed locations and private information, and they aren't even fined? This feels very much like a slap on the wrist.
“While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have,” Snapchat posted on its website. Frankly, that sounds like a cop out. If that was all I got from my tween, there would be hell to pay, and that would come right after I ensured that I received a sincere "I'm sorry." No sign of that from Snapchat.
(Side note: I'm a lawyer, and I know that this settlement did not require Snapchat to admit fault, or anything , really. But I'm also a ticked off parent who thinks companies shouldn't get away with lies made at the expense of kids.)
2. Snapchat is still hugely popular, and this settlement will not dramatically change that or stop kids from using it.
My tween came home from a birthday party last weekend talking about all the kids on Snapchat. She felt a bit left out, because all kinds of 11 and 12 year-olds have accounts, accounts which Snapchat's rules specifically say they should not have. You have to be 13 to have an account. Same goes for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Parents disregard these rules, which are in place to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
COPPA has failed to prevent underage kids from inappropriate behavior. Federal laws have not fixed the issue of kids sexting, cyberbullying or sharing of personal information that should be kept private. I certainly don't expect a settlement with the FTC to suddenly change that.
Don't think Snapchat isn't crystal clear that it has a boatload of users who aren't going anywhere. See above for Snapchat's lack of remorse, which makes me feel like very little will change.
My takeaways from this:
* Keep talking to your kids about online safety and keeping private matters private.
You can use this news to show your that you were, actually, quite right about those Snapchats living forever.
Emphasize the rule that if you would not share it with your relatives, do not share it online. Remind kids that anything shared online can resurface at any time, including during job interviews and college application time.
*If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Yes, we'd all like to be able to say things and have them disappear. That doesn't happen in the real world.
* Follow the acronym of THINK before you post.
Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?
* Parents, PLEASE keep checking your kids' phones.
Monitor what they're doing. Snapchat can be a breeding ground of bullying and sexting.
* Don't be afraid to say "No."
Snapchats may last forever, but it isn't easy for parents to monitor and check. The law is on your side - your child should not have an account before they're 13. And even if they're older than 13, there is no God-given or constitution guaranteed right to a Snapchat account, especially for a minor. Set the rules. Be the parent. Do what makes you comfortable. Your kids will be fine without Snapchat, I promise, and in fact, they'll probably be better off.
You can get the full details in the FTC's press release here.
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