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FTC: Snapchat misled users about disappearing messages

Snapchat settled with the FTC agreeing to maintain a privacy program that will be monitored for the next 20 years that will result in fines if the company fails to comply.
By Ananth Baliga   |   May 8, 2014 at 2:39 PM   |   Comments

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NEW YORK, May 8 (UPI) -- Snapchat has settled with the Federal Trade Commission for misleading users about the nature of the disappearing messages sent using the popular app.

Snapchat is a messaging app that allows users to send pictures, videos and text messages that disappear after a few seconds. The company was charged with collecting users' contact details without telling them or asking permission. The settlement does not involve any monetary 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.

"If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises," said FTC Chairwoman Edith 
Ramirez, in a statement. "Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action."

Snapchat claimed that snaps disappear forever, but the FTC found there were ways to save these messages. The commission said users could save the 'snaps' by using third-party apps, or simply by taking screenshots without the sender being notified.

The company was also found to collect users' location information and address book contact data, despite assuring users that they did not collect such information. The matter came to the fore when Snapchat was hacked and the information of 4.6 million users was accessed.

The breach was first brought to Snapchat's notice by security experts, after which Snapchat admitted to the hole and issued a fix. The issues reached the FTC after the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint alleging Snapchat's messages weren't disappearing as promised by the company.

Snapchat will have to stay away from misrepresenting how it maintains the privacy and confidentiality of user data. The company's privacy program will be monitored for the next 20 years.

Follow @antbaliga and @UPI on Twitter.
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