Scary News About SnapChat

200,000 More Reasons to Delete SnapchatA number of students I know use the app SnapChat. For those who may not be familiar with it, it is a photo sharing app that allows you to share photos with people who follow you, but is supposed to allow you to control how long the photo is available.  You can send a photo to someone and set how many seconds they can view it. A recent addition is the SnapChat “story” where an image or video is available to all followers, but for a limited amount of time.

Since news of this broke on Friday I’ve received at least 50 texts, emails, and other messages about it.

I’m a little torn. I don’t want to say “I told you so.” More like– “NO!!! I tried to warn people.”

More than 4 million people have read my post, “Why you should delete Snapchat.” The PDF of that post has been downloaded 45,000 times. It’s been taught as an example of a persuasive argument in just about every state in the United States.

But here we are. My efforts weren’t enough.

Somewhere, in the ether of the internet, are 200,000 images posted online without permission. That’s on top of the countless number of Tumblr blogs and other websites dedicated to sharing captured Snaps.

The facts of what I wrote about Snapchat in August 2013 haven’t changed

  1. Snapchat is built on a lie that digital images disappear. They don’t. Once you take a picture with your device and send it to another person you’ve given up control of that image. Itmight get deleted. Once you send it via text, email, or upload it to an app… you lose control.
  2. You think you’re anonymous online, but you aren’t. Whether it’s Snapchat or Yik Yak or an online forum, everything you post online points directly back to you. Everything. That happens at the device level with metadata. It happens with your ISP or mobile provider. And it happens with app developers at the server level. The only one who doesn’t know who everyone is on an anonymous app are the actual users. And, as we’re about to learn with the Snapchat leak, facial recognition is a double-edged sword.
  3. Snapchat was created as a safe way to sext. In the past year since the January 2013 uproar, Snapchat has done a very good job navigating further and further away from it’s genesis story of a safe sexting app. I’ve acknowledged that publicly. They introduced some new features, they’ve said all the right things in the press, they’ve educated users, and– even for me– they truly have done a good job trying to pivot Snapchat from the salacious history, which indeed fueled the initial popularity, to something better and more mature. But they can’t get away from their history or the subset of users who use the app as a safe way to sext. As Mitt Romney learned in 2012… you can’t “Shake the Etch-a-Sketch” and just tell a new story sometimes. If they were serious about getting rid of the subset of users who sext with the app they would invest a few million dollars to develop a feature that detected nudity and blocked it. (ala facial recognition in Facebook or iPhoto.)
  4. The Snapchat leaders seem more interested in blaming others than blaming their app. When they settled with the FCC, it was a misunderstanding and they didn’t own responsibility. When user names and passwords were leaked, it wasn’t their incompetence as developers– it was unscrupulous people wanting access to an unlimited treasure trove of private data. And in this latest leak, it’s not the fact that Snapchat has an open unofficial API that even an untrained developer can crack into within a few minutes then build and release iOS and/or Android apps on the official marketplace— it’s these 3rd parties who are to blame. We all know people like this. Whether it’s entitlement or immaturity or arrogance, they can’t simply admit that their leadership failed, that Snapchat is bigger than they are capable of leading, or that their skills as a developer are not up to snuff. Instead they play the “Hey, I’m just a kid, I make mistakes” card. Snapchat is valued at anywhere from $2 billion to $10 billion. (Though with existing and pending litigation I can’t see it.) Isn’t it time for the leadership at Snapchat to be held responsible? Shouldn’t the board, likely full of VC investors, make a decision to remove the founders and put in place someone capable of finishing the job? Surely, if the eventual goal of Snapchat is to sell it to Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, or whoever wants it– the maximum value of Snapchat will never be achieved with a bumbling leadership team who can’t publicly own failure. Duh.

If anything, what I wrote in August 2013 has been validated time and again. Which only leads me to the same conclusion: Delete the app.

Do not trust an app built like this. And do not trust people like this.

There are white hats and black hats in this world, Snapchat wears a black hat.

Beyond “I Told You So”

Right now, nearly every hour, a story is coming out blaming Snapchat for this leak. And they are 100% to blame. No doubt many will join me in calling the Snapchat board to remove Snapchat’s founders for their incompetence.

But, emotionally, I’m just not interested in “I told you so” any more than I truly care about who is the CEO of an app people should just delete.

Just like there wasn’t anything in it for me when I wrote the original post in August 2013, I am not somehow filled with pride that this has happened and I was right all along. (If you didn’t know, I wrote the post in response to requests from a group of moms at a seminar. I couldn’t answer their question about Snapchat sufficiently on the fly, I told them to watch my blog and I’d write some reasons you should delete it.)

So here’s what I’m feeling about the Snapchat leak:

  • I feel terrible for the people who will now pay a penalty for their lack of understanding on how the internet works. Yes, we should hold Snapchat responsible. And I believe that the FBI will hold those who have leaked images of minors will be arrested for distribution of child pornography.
  • For those who have had images leaked, I hope they seek and get justice. What was done to them was wrong, it’s against the law, and the perpetrators may have had a good reason (to expose Snapchat’s vulnerability) but that’s not reason enough to violate the law.
  • I hope the public learns from this leak. For those who will have images posted, I hope they’ve learned that no matter what is promised, anything shared online is ultimately public. Take solace in knowing you aren’t alone. But make a correction in your behavior, as well, so that it never happens to you again.
  • As a Christian, I believe all humans are ultimately fallible. This isn’t about Snapchat– it’s about us. (Ourselves and the people we thought we trusted.) We make mistakes, people we trust betray us, and we all live in a space between blaming ourselves and blaming others for a lot of stuff. (Not just this leak) This is what we do as humans. While we all have good in us, as we’re made in the image of God, we also have evil in us. Last week I wrote about a new research study about teenagers and sexting. In talking about this with some friends I came to this conclusion: 100% of us are susceptible to sexting. The reason many haven’t is that the opportunity hasn’t arisen in our lives. The hormones of sex and the dopamine rewards of our inborn reward system are simply stronger than us. We all need Jesus. We need his strength to resist. We need forgiveness when we mess up. And we need His hope (and the actions of His people) for freeing the world of sexual exploitation. But I don’t see myself any better than those who have leaked images or had images leaked. And neither should you.
  • Let’s not forget that the leak is about sexual exploitation and the power of shame in our society. In the coming days it’ll be easy to throw people under the bus and blame them for taking these images. But there’s a big difference between exchanging these images with someone you trust (or are flirting with) and having them published, perhaps with their usernames or real names. Trust me, those affected will feel terrible enough as it is. Let’s not forget that the release of these images is illegal. (Do I even need to say it… DON’T LOOK AT THEM!)
  • These aren’t 200,000 images. These are 200,000 people. That’s a lot of hurting people out there. Ugh, my heart hurts.
  • I’ve got more work to do. One thing that’s become clear over the past year is that there aren’t a lot of people actually trying to educate teenagers about social media in a useful way.Scaring them doesn’t work. Instead, I’ve found that helping them understand how basic principles of social media play out in the real world as well as creating some common language with the adults in their lives really, really helps. In so many ways– I’m sick of talking about social media. But I also don’t feel like I can stop because the need is so great.

Why Have You Deleted Snapchat?

I’d love to hear from people who have had enough and deleted Snapchat. Now that you aren’t using it, what are you using instead?

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