Is Snapchat Privacy-Friendly? [Analysis]

Snapchat has over 300 million active monthly users. It’s extremely popular with younger people. The platform lets users of all ages share photo, video and text messages. Many of these messages contain information about our everyday lives. But is Snapchat doing enough to keep its users and their data private?

Do Snapchat Photos Really Disappear?

In 2013, the FTC alleged that Snapchat deceived their users about the “disappearing nature” of messages sent through the service. Kashmir Hill reported in Forbes that forensic experts were able to recover messages sent on Snapchat. The forensic expert was surprised that no one else had recovered Snapchat messages using the method he discovered. Legal cases have included deleted Snapchats recovered from people’s phones.

Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel told Buzzfeed in an interview, “The people who most enjoy using Snapchat are those who embrace the spirit and intent of the service. There will always be ways to reverse engineer technology products – but that spoils the fun!” Unfortunately, this seems like Spiegel’s way of skirting around the fact that Snapchat has security vulnerabilities. The original appeal of Snapchat compared to other social networks was that your photos disappeared. In theory, this would let people share content more freely without having to worry about the posts coming back to haunt them later.

In October 2016, Amnesty International gave Snapchat a score of 26 out of 100 for it’s lack of transparency or action on messaging privacy. AI also noted that Snapchat’s privacy policy explained a strong commitment to privacy, but in practice it didn’t do enough to protect its users’ privacy. Ironically, the same press release gives Facebook the highest score for its encryption use and transparency (which has since been heavily criticized).

Does Snapchat use Encryption?

Snapchat introduced end-to-end encryption to its network in late 2018. According to Digital Information World, Snapchat’s encryption is limited to snaps only, so it doesn’t apply to text messages or group chat messages sent on Snapchat.

Video: Is Snapchat Privacy-Friendly?

Are Your Memories on Snapchat Private?

Your Memories can only be viewed by you. However, they are stored on Snapchat’s servers. So if Snapchat were to experience a hack, these photos and videos could get exposed. While Snapchat Memories are a convenient way to store your photos, if you want to keep them private you should save them directly to your device.

How Does Snapchat Use Your Location?

Snapchat introduced Snap Map in 2017. It’s a feature that lets you share your location when all or some of your Snapchat friends.

Snap Map walkthrough

The Verge reported that this feature may mislead users into thinking that their location only appears on the map when they have posted a snap to their story. The truth is, however, that whenever a user opens the Snapchat app, their location is shared on the Snap Map. Verge reporter Dani Deahl explained that she was able to pinpoint one of her friend’s locations down to the exact street address. Since the address was in a residential area, she determined that was where her friend lived.

Snapchat users may assume that sharing their location is harmless, but it could allow for someone to find you or track your frequent locations. In Snapchat’s settings you can select which friends you share your location with, if any at all.

Is Snapchat Secure?

Now that Snapchat uses encryption on photos and videos sent on the app, it is much more secure. However, just because your messages are encrypted doesn’t mean that all of your information is private. If you want your account to be even more secure, take these steps to increase your account’s security.

How Secure Is Snapchat?

Snapchat uses end-to-end encryption on photos shared between its users. Text messages and other messages sent on Snapchat aren’t protected by the same encryption. Snapchat doesn’t disclose much information about the type of encryption that it uses, so it can be difficult to truly understand what happens to your messages once they get to Snap’s servers.

Snapchat Privacy Settings

Don’t Let People Find You with Your Mobile Number: Snapchat settings allow you to toggle whether or not other users can find your Snapchat account using your mobile number. If you are concerned about privacy, you should turn this feature off. If you use your personal cell phone number for work purposes, or have your phone number published anywhere online, turning this off can protect you from an unwanted flood of unknown people adding you as a friend.

Don’t Share Your Location on Snap Map: If you’re new to Snapchat, you will be prompted about sharing your location the first time you open the Snap Map.

What Can You Do About Your Snapchat Privacy?

Enable Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor authentication requires a second bit of information besides your password to login to your Snapchat account. This means if you try to log in from a new device, you will receive a code via text message that you will use to verify your identity. Adding this additional step of authentication will make it more difficult for someone to access your account in the event that your password gets cracked.

Use My Eyes Only: If you have certain photos or videos stored in your Memories that you would rather keep private, you can move them to ‘My Eyes Only’. This requires you to enter a passcode before viewing any of this content.

Just Don’t Send Things You Want to Keep Private: A good rule of thumb when it comes to social media or other digital communications is to avoid sending anything that you wouldn’t want to be public. This is important to remember when using Snapchat, because it’s easy to think that because your messages ‘disappear’ that they are private no matter what. Someone can easily screenshot your messages or use a third-party app to record your snaps without you knowing.

Keep Your App Updated: As with any app you install, updates often include bug fixes and security patches. These updates will fix issues that could let a hacker or anyone else access your private messages. According to Infosec Institute, “from the beginning of its development in 2011, [Snapchat] has gone through major cybersecurity challenges”. It has repaired a number of vulnerabilities, but that’s not to say there aren’t more that haven’t been discovered yet.

Only Let Friends Contact You: Snapchat lets you control who can contact you: your friends or everyone. To lock down your account and prevent unknown people from contacting you, only let your friends contact you. This also minimizes the potential for things like harassment or cyber-bullying by giving you the ability to prevent these people from contacting you.

Control Who Can See Your Stories: You can choose to allow everyone to view your story, your friends, or a custom list of people. If you want to add certain friends but don’t want them to be able to view your story, simply use a custom list and remove these people from the list.

Hide Yourself in “Quick Add”: “Quick Add” lets you and your friends find people you may know on Snapchat. According to the app, you might show up in another Snapchatter’s Quick Add if you share a mutual friend or another connection.

Don’t Add Random Users: If you don’t know who a person is who adds you as a friend, you shouldn’t add them. These accounts are often spammers or could send you phishing attacks. If you add these people they may be able to view your story or your location in Snap Maps.

Don’t Share Your Username or Snapcode Openly: This seems obvious, but if you don’t want people to add you on Snapchat, don’t share you username or your Snapcode. Sharing it on your other social media accounts lets other people easily find your Snapchat account. People you don’t know could combine the information they can get from your Instagram, for example, with Snapchat to find your location or other private information.