But Snap representatives have argued they’re limited in their abilities when a user meets someone elsewhere and brings that connection to Snapchat.
Some of its safeguards, however, are fairly minimal. Snap says users must be 13 or older, but the app, like many other platforms, doesn’t use an age-verification system, so any child who knows how to type a fake birthday can create an account. Snap said it works to identify and delete the accounts of users younger than 13 – and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, bans companies from tracking or targeting users under that age.
The systems work by looking for matches against a database of previously reported sexual-abuse material run by the government-funded National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
Snap says its servers delete most photos, videos and messages once both sides have viewed them, and all unopened snaps after 30 days. Snap said it preserves some account information, including reported content, and shares it with law enforcement when legally requested. But it also tells police that much of its content is “permanently deleted and unavailable,” limiting what it can turn over as part of a search warrant or investigation.
In 2014, the company agreed to settle charges from the Federal Trade Commission alleging Snapchat had deceived users about the “disappearing nature” of their photos and videos, and collected geolocation and contact data from their phones without their knowledge or consent.
Snapchat, the FTC said, had also failed to implement basic safeguards, such as verifying people’s phone numbers. Some users had ended up sending “personal snaps to complete strangers” who had registered with phone numbers that weren’t actually theirs.