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Take a Picture: Snapchat Settles With FTC Over "Dissapearing" Claims 51

Posted by timothy
from the if-it-reaches-an-output-device-it-can-reach-an-input-device dept.
The New York Times is one of many outlets reporting that Snapchat has agreed to settle with the FTC about the gap between promises made about the company's "disappearing" communications system and reality. "The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said Snapchat had agreed to settle charges that the company was deceiving users about the ephemeral nature of the photos and video messages sent through its service. The messages were significantly less private than the company had said, the commission said. In marketing the service, Snapchat has said that its messages “disappear forever.” But in its complaint, the commission said the messages, often called snaps, can be saved in several ways. The commission said that users can save a message by using a third-party app, for example, or employ simple workarounds that allow users to take a screenshot of messages without detection." Besides the monetary side of the settlement (details of which are promised soon on the FTC's site), the company has agreed to operate for the next 20 years with special supervision of a new privacy program; it seems a little optimistic as a timeframe for any social-media related business. Here are the FTC's charges (PDF).
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Take a Picture: Snapchat Settles With FTC Over "Dissapearing" Claims

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  • OMG. that's like a really long time.
    • by Ksevio (865461)
      To me that sounded like when courts give people 3 life sentences + 100 years. I don't see snapchat lasting that long.
  • by Scowler (667000) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @04:57PM (#46954095)
    Maybe pictures don't disappear cleanly, but that $3 Billion offer for the company sure disappeared fast.
    • by tokencode (1952944) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:14PM (#46954213)
      Yea, not accepting that offer may be one of the dumbest business decisions I've ever seen. There is essentially 0 intellectually property that is not easily reproducible. Now the only stuff you get by acquiring SnapChat is 20 years of oversight and scrutiny and a bad reputation.
      • by Aeonym (1115135) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:26PM (#46954291)

        There are plenty of people who believe that being the first person to implement a moderately clever idea makes them indispensable to the modern information economy.

        Of course, a disproportionate number of those people are in their twenties and have no real experience or conception of how the wider world works...kind of like Snapchat's founders.

      • by amalek (615708)

        It probably won't be around in 5 years or so.

        The userbase is predominantly teenagers who'll be very different people in a couple years, and the slightly older crowd who'll have moved onwards as well.

        I see two issues:
        1) Functionally, it's simple to replicate, and
        2) The ephemeral nature of the pictures were what gave it traction in the first place. This is now under serious (20 years of) scrutiny.

        There will likely remain a market for the functionality it offers, but the teen demographic will probably not be r

      • Yea, not accepting that offer may be one of the dumbest business decisions I've ever seen. There is essentially 0 intellectually property that is not easily reproducible. Now the only stuff you get by acquiring SnapChat is 20 years of oversight and scrutiny and a bad reputation.

        On the other hand, one has to wonder where all this FTC attention came from.

        Snapchat was not advertising anything falsely. The original pictures DO disappear forever. The fact that other people can copy them while they exist is really pretty irrelevant... and should be obvious to anyone using the service.

        So who does FTC think Snapchat was deceiving? Certainly nobody I know. Instead, why don't they go after companies like DropBox which deliberately lied to their customers about security? A complaint wa

        • Snapchat is basically a sexting app. The word-of-mouth marketing message is "go ahead and send a nude selfie to some random internet person, without worry!" With all the existing worries over teen sexting, bullying, revenge porn, etc. such a service was probably bound to generate government scrutiny fast. Maybe the FTC did just use a pretext.
          • With all the existing worries over teen sexting, bullying, revenge porn, etc. such a service was probably bound to generate government scrutiny fast.

            But "bound to generate government scrutiny" is not the same as "justified lawsuit". That was my point.

            There are things the government is not allowed to do for political reasons. Period. Lawsuits are one of those things.

    • Its not hard to make them disappear on the server side:
      1. mkfifo a named pipe somenthing like <image>sender-receiver-timestamp
      2. read the incoming file from the tcp socket and write to the named pipe
      2a. verify file is less than the size of the pipe buffer via return value of write
      2b. if error or size exceed PIPE_BUF return error message
      3. send messages to sender and receiver with unique uri
      4. when either the sender or receiver goes to the uri:
      a the pipe is read back just like a regular file to the tcp
  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:05PM (#46954133)

    They will be lucky if they're not bankrupt by next year. To quote the venerable Gilderoy Lockhart: "Fame is a fickle friend, Harry."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is like the government prosecuting your secure phone line business for being insecure, because someone can hold a tape recorder up to the receiver.

    I'd think the FTC could go after far worse companies, but maybe there's an ulterior motive here. If everyone used snapchat, it might be a headache for the FBI.

    • by Scowler (667000) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:24PM (#46954273)
      The entire point of Snapchat was proven to be an advertising lie. That's different than, say, bullet 12 on three pages of advertising claims turns out to be an exaggeration. How could the FTC ignore this one?
      • The entire point of Snapchat was proven to be an advertising lie. That's different than, say, bullet 12 on three pages of advertising claims turns out to be an exaggeration. How could the FTC ignore this one?

        Well for one it's completely outside their jurisdiction. Snapchat is a free service - there is no trade going on between Snapchat and its users.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @06:01PM (#46954533) Homepage

        Its funny when the government attacks you for providing secure communications. Then they attack you for having insecure communications.

        I suppose snapchat should have said, "the pictures disappear from OUR servers"... but in the end you have a government agency assigning itself powers and jurisdictions, and deciding punishments all by itself.

        • but in the end you have a government agency assigning itself powers and jurisdictions, and deciding punishments all by itself.

          No, this is actually something which Congress gave the FTC power and jurisdiction over in the various laws it wrote that apply to the FTC. Whether or not the FTC should have pursued this is still a valid argument, but this is clearly within their purview. They alleged that Snapchat was guilty of false advertising. The FTC was, in part, set up to investigate and prosecute claims of false advertising.

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      This is like the government prosecuting your secure phone line business for being insecure, because someone can hold a tape recorder up to the receiver.

      I think it depends on just what you promised your customers. If you said 'Your conversations over our phone calls CANNOT be intercepted or recorded by any means' you're promising a lot.

      If your promise is more along the lines of 'Your conversations cannot be listened to or recorded by intercepting the telephone line or circuit as long as the device is intact and properly used', IE you don't promise that the phones will hold up to physical manipulation, bugs in the room, etc... You're probably safe as long

  • by g0tai (625459)
    So, does this mean that the 'third party apps' that are used to save images are circumventing the (wonderful) DMCA?
  • by Scowler (667000) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:32PM (#46954329)
    ... nudie pictures of either myself or my wife, please delete. Pretty Please. Cherries on top.
  • Smells Fishy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2014 @05:45PM (#46954435)

    We all know that things like screen grabs can "save" a snap chat on the other side. There is always an analog hole. To get a fine over it is stupid.
    Snap chat's promise is that THEY don't save it - either on their server or in their app. The summary doesn't seem to indicate they did otherwise either.

    This smells of the people at snap chat being invited to Fort Meade (NSA HQ), and told to install a back door (NSA's "collect it all" policy). When they refused (they wouldn't have started the company if they could agree to it), they now face a multi-gajillion dollar fine, and "supervision" guaranteed to drive them out of business.

    I'm pretty sure we're watching the results a shake down. Very likely they are also under a gag order preventing them from speaking out about it.
    If only we had a free press to tell us what really happened...
    Land of the free, indeed.

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      i could also use a camera and take a photo of the photo, Im not so sure that snapchat should be getting in trouble for this
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      We all know that things like screen grabs can "save" a snap chat on the other side. There is always an analog hole. To get a fine over it is stupid.
      Snap chat's promise is that THEY don't save it - either on their server or in their app. The summary doesn't seem to indicate they did otherwise either.

      Except when they did.

      First, the app is SUPPOSED to let the other side know if you took a screenshot. On Android, if you do it, it works very reliably. On iOS, not so much (because Apple didn't provide an API for

  • There is little chance Snapchat remains as is for 20 years. The bankrupt case is easy to handle, but what happens to supervision if they merge with another company? Does the supervision follows? I guess that would lower company valuation a lot.
  • You should refrain from using Internet and especially posting any compromising content. Just take a picture of your tablet with your phone or vice versa and presto!

  • http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/... [techcrunch.com]

    "Images are truly ephemeral: They disappear after being viewed, from a user’s inbox as well as the Glimpse servers. Photos are shown for eight seconds, while video is just four seconds or shorter..."

  • * Receive email from Snapchat's/whoever's servers
    * Plug in a USB connecter
    * Read contents of your inbox
    * Transfer a copy to your PC
    * Decode copy at leisure

    Unless Snapchat has a client-side app that totally takes over your smartphone/tablet there is no way to protect against this attack.

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