by Cristy Koebler
In the world of social media, big companies like Facebook and Instagram have become household names. But the truth is there are a lot of other platforms that you may not be aware of, ones that have distinct purposes and privacy concerns. (Note: if you have teenagers, there’s an excellent chance they know all about the platforms you’ve never heard of!)
One of the social media apps that just might be the current favorite—especially among young people, although it does have a growing following for businesses and older users—is Snapchat. If you’ve heard the term before, it may be in relation to the three different data breaches or hacking events that have successfully targeted the company, which is why understanding your security settings before using Snapchat is important.
Snapchat’s design lets you send a photo or video to your contact, only to have the content disappear in a matter of seconds. It doesn’t remain on the recipient’s phone, and if he tries to take a screenshot of the image it lets you know.
There are important things to know about privacy and security before using Snapchat:
1. Who can send – Snapchat is similar to Facebook in that you will connect with friends you find through the platform in order to see and share your own “stories.” However, there is a setting that will allow anyone to send you a snap. For your own peace of mind, you will want to make sure you check off “friends only” under your account settings. This would keep a stranger from sending you an unexpected offensive picture or video.
2. Snaps and Stories are NOT the same thing – Snapchat lets you send a snap to a specific connected friend, so you could send a happy birthday message to your niece who’s off at college. At the same time, there is also a “stories” section to your account, which works a lot more like a Facebook feed. This is where you upload your photos, videos you made, and more, and then everyone you’ve given access to can see it. This is another important distinction you must activate in your privacy settings. Just like selecting who can send you content, this will indicate who can see your content.
3. Screenshots ARE possible – Snapchat at one point indicated that a recipient couldn’t screenshot a photo or video since you have to leave your finger on the screen in order to view the content (basically, holding down the play button). That doesn’t mean screenshots aren’t possible, but instead are just difficult. Also remember that it’s always possible to use a second phone’s camera to record the content right off the screen, so no, a snap is not completely safe.
4. Snapchat might not store your content, but… – When approximately 200,000 Snapchat photos and videos were leaked on 4chan in October of 2014, there were several possible culprits. One theory is that one of the multiple third-party apps that are designed specifically to save snaps without the sender knowing was hacked. Another possibility is that cellular service providers’ servers were hacked; Snapchat claims it does not store its users’ content on their servers, but that doesn’t mean that cellphone providers aren’t storing content in the same way that they store text messages.
Just like with any social media platform, you have to do your homework before you let yourself (or your loved ones) have full access. Social media is supposed to be enjoyable and convenient, but there’s nothing fun about setting yourself up for identity theft, cyberbullying, or worse.
Cristy Koebler is Communications & Media Manager at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in identity theft on social networks and smartphones, and shares educational information with the public through ITRC’s social media channels.