NEW YORK, N.Y. – Snapchat has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it deceived customers about the disappearing nature of messages sent through its service and that it collected users’ contacts without telling them or asking permission.
Snapchat is a popular mobile messaging app that lets people send photos, videos and messages that disappear in a few seconds. But the FTC says Snapchat misled users about its data collection methods and failed to tell users that others could save their messages without their knowledge.
Snapchat has said that it notifies users when a recipient takes a screenshot of a “snap” they’ve sent. But the FTC said recipients with an Apple device that runs an operating system that predates iOS 7 could evade the app’s screenshot detection. Apple’s iOS7 launched last summer.
In addition, the FTC says Snapchat’s app stored video snaps that were not encrypted on the recipient’s device. The videos remained accessible to the recipient, the agency said. A user could access a video message, even after it supposedly disappeared, if the user simply connected the phone to a computer and accessed the video in the device’s file directory.
The FTC complaint also alleges that Snapchat failed to secure its “find friends” feature. A security breach in January allowed hackers to collect the usernames and phone numbers of some 4.6 million Snapchat users. The breach occurred after security experts warned the company at least twice about a vulnerability in its system. Snapchat later issued an update to its app that fixed the issue and allowed users to opt out of the “find friends” feature.
Snapchat’s Android app also transmitted users’ location information, the FTC said, even though the company told users it didn’t collect such information.
The settlement doesn’t have a financial component, but if Snapchat is found to violate the agreement, the company could end up paying a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for each violation. The Los Angeles startup reportedly turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook last fall.
Snapchat agreed to settle without admitting or denying any wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, the company must implement a privacy program that will be monitored by an outside privacy expert for the next 20 years. The arrangement is similar to privacy settlements that Google, Facebook and Myspace have agreed to in recent years.
In a blog post Thursday, Snapchat said that when the app was being created, “some things didn’t get the attention they could have.”
“One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community,” the company said in the post.
Snapchat, however, said it has since fixed the problems.
The settlement will be formally approved in 30 days once a public comment period ends.