Snapchat images taken by a user intended for a private recipient can also be viewed by the authorities provided they have a search warrant for these images or “snaps.” Snapchat’s Micah Schaffer, who is responsible for managing the safety and security facets of the company, said that snaps sent to a recipient are permanently deleted from the servers once it is opened.
However, unopened snaps remain in the company’s servers for 30 days more before these are permanently deleted too. Thus, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), if Snapchat receives orders from the authorities for the contents of these snaps the company is obliged to deliver such information provided “those snaps are still on our servers,” added Schaffer.
With a proper search warrant, the company stated that it is willing to help authorities gain access to the servers in order to help build a case. Schaffer also said that there are only two employees at Snapchat who can access the servers to search for concerned images: himself and Bobby Murphy, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer.
Since May 2013, the company received “about a dozen” of these warrants which is a small percentage compared to the 350 million snaps sent for the same period.
The company follows these steps in storing and deleting images: a user sends a snap which is then uploaded in the company’s servers. The recipients are sent notifications about the snaps sent and when the snap is viewed and the timer runs out, the snaps are immediately deleted from the servers. For unopened snaps, these will remain for 30 days before these are deleted too. With regard to the device that took the image, these too will be deleted from the device’s storage when the system sends a “delete” instruction.
Snapchat, the photo sharing mobile phone application developed by Evan Spiegel, the current CEO, and Murphy instantly became a hit not only with teens who own mobile phones but for people who wanted to catch a moment and share it with friends yet the image does not become part of the permanent record of one’s files. According to Charles Mauro, a user interface design expert, “Not only does Snapchat capture the short-term duration of these real human communications, but also their fleeting nature.” This application is beneficial for people who do not want everything permanently recorded and documented for everyone to see. Users of Snapchat feel uninhibited which makes sending messages attractive to them, added Mauro.
Unlike Facebook which provides a rich media experience to its users or the mini-message broadcaster Twitter, Snapchat makes communications simple and person-to-person. Based on the April 2013 data, 80 percent of Snapchat’s users are located in the U.S. In November of this year, Snapchat refused the 3 billion cash offer of Facebook to acquire the company.
With Snapchat becoming a breakout consumer product for 2013, its growth trend will be ongoing in the next few years and will continue to attract new users not only in the U.S. but also globally. However, Snapchat’s main attraction of being impermanent and private is somewhat a concern with its unopened images that can be viewed by authorities. This information may provide a reminder to users not to do anything illegal using Snapchat.
By Roberto I. Belda