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Snapchat Settles with the FTC Regarding Privacy Concerns

In December and January I received hundreds of comments and emails telling me I was wrong, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I was misrepresenting Snapchat in this post.

Well, according to a consent decree released today between Snapchat and the Federal Trade Commission, I wasn’t wrong about Snapchat: They really were collecting more data than consumers knew. And images didn’t really disappear quite like their marketing claimed. 

Here are some highlights of the agreement…

IT IS ORDERED that respondent and its officers, agents, representatives, and employees, directly or indirectly, shall not misrepresent in any manner, expressly or by implication, in or affecting commerce, the extent to which respondent or its products or services maintain and protect the privacy, security, or confidentiality of any covered information, including but not limited to: (1) the extent to which a message is deleted after being viewed by the recipient; (2) the extent to which respondent or its products or services are capable of detecting or notifying the sender when a recipient has captured a screenshot of, or otherwise saved, a message; (3) the categories of covered information collected; or (4) the steps taken to protect against misuse or unauthorized disclosure of covered information.

Translation: Snapchat has to clearly tell users exactly what is deleted, what isn’t, and what data is collected/shared/captured. Obviously, had they been forthcoming this order wouldn’t be necessary. 

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that respondent, in or affecting commerce, shall, no later than the date of service of this order, establish and implement, and thereafter maintain, a comprehensive privacy program that is reasonably designed…

Translation: The FTC is mandating a very extensive/expensive privacy program. (This is part of the agreement is way more costly than a fine.) In other words, they can no longer claim ignorance, or that they were focusing on building a cool app. In a statement posted on their blog today, they still try to pass off the blame, “While we were focused on building, some things didn’t get the attention they could have.” This new program, once implemented, is going to have them taking 100% responsibility and stop playing childish blame games. 

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, in connection with its compliance with Part II of this order, respondent shall obtain initial and biennial assessments and reports (“Assessments”) from a qualified, objective, independent third-party professional, who uses procedures and standards generally accepted in the profession.

Translation: Snapchat will have to hire a company, at their cost, to audit Snapchat’s privacy program, make sure their is full compliance, and file a report to the FTC every 6 months.

B. for a period of five (5) years from the date received, all consumer complaints directed at respondent, or forwarded to respondent by a third party, that relate to the conduct prohibited by this order and any responses to such complaints;

C. for a period of five (5) years from the date received, any documents, whether prepared by or on behalf of respondent that contradict, qualify, or call into question respondent’s compliance with this order; and

Translation: Snapchat has to report every single privacy complaint to the FTC for the next 5 years. Not just complaints directly to them, but also complaints about them being made publicly. Ouch.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that respondent shall deliver a copy of this order to all current and future subsidiaries, current and future principals, officers, directors, and managers, and to all current and future employees, agents, and representatives having responsibilities relating to the subject matter of this order.

Translation: Going forward, anyone who does business with Snapchat, works for them, or invests in them, has to receive a copy of this settlement and sign an acknowledgement that they read it. It’s kind of like telling your employer you’ve been convicted of a crime, except the other way around. 

This order will terminate twenty (20) years from the date of its issuance, or twenty (20) years from the most recent date that the United States or the Commission files a complaint (with or without an accompanying consent decree) in federal court alleging any violation of the order, whichever comes later; provided, however, that the filing of such a complaint will not affect the duration…

Translation: This effects Snapchat for the next 20 years. And any other violation of FTC rules… say a COPPA violation (allowing someone under 13 years old to use Snapchat) would result in the 20 years starting over. In other words, this agreement is going to last a lot longer than Snapchat itself. 

Go here to read the agreement in full. 

Questions about the agreement? Ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to find a well-referenced answer.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

4 replies on “Snapchat Settles with the FTC Regarding Privacy Concerns”

Can you explain COPPA and what it means for children under 13 using social media. Not only in regards to snapchat, but also facebook, twitter, instagram?
Is there a social media site that someone under 13 can use that is in compliance to COPPA? I have lots of middle schoolers on social media….

Great question. COPPA, the child online privacy protection act, protects children under 13 years of age from the collection of any personally identifiable information. Full name, location, phone number, school, etc.

So it 100% means that children under 13 years old are not allowed to have accounts on ANY social media platform that collects that info… which is all of them.

The responsibility of the online company is to prevent their registration by “age-gating” their site, asking new users to verify their age. But they can’t prevent a child from lying, and data shows that many do WITH their parents permission.

It’s not up to a parent to say “yes, you are old enough for Instagram” any more than it’s OK to decide that a 13 year old can drive. 🙂

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