Last week, the office of the Maryland Attorney General (AG) announced a settlement with Snapchat, Inc., the developer of the popular mobile app, about alleged deceptive marketing practices and violation of Federal children's privacy laws. The Maryland AG announcement:
"... Snapchat misled consumers when it represented that snaps are only temporary and will disappear after they are opened and viewed by the recipient. In fact, recipients of snaps can capture or copy them for later viewing and distribution. Consequently, consumers may have sent sensitive snaps that they intended not to be saved or seen by anyone but the recipient, only to discover that they were saved or distributed to others."
The company alleged collected and saved the names and phone numbers of contacts from the address books on app users' mobile devices, which it allegedly didn't disclose. The AG also alleged that the company knew about users under the age of 13 and failed to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Terms of the settlement require the company to stop making false representations, to stop misrepresenting the temporary nature of Snaps, to disclose to user that Snaps can indeed be saved by other users, to comply with COPPA and stop children under 13 from using its app, pay $100,000 to the State of Maryland, and to obtain users' consent before collecting and saving address book contents. Attorney General Gansler said about the settlement:
"Despite Snapchat's marketing claims to the contrary, no company can fully prevent content you send to someone else from being copied, shared or posted online... Companies that operate on the Internet or on mobile devices, especially those popular among youth, have a responsibility to protect their users' privacy and to be up front about what personal information they collect and the permanency of uploaded files."
Snapchat, Inc. acknowledged in its blog the settlement with the Maryland AG, and emphasized that it didn't save Snaps. That is little comfort to consumers who used the mobile app thinking that Snaps wouldn't be saved by anybody: the company nor other users.
The FTC also emphasized in its announcement:
"The settlement with Snapchat is part of the FTC’s ongoing effort to ensure that companies market their apps truthfully and keep their privacy promises to consumers. Under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, Snapchat will be prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information. In addition, the company will be required to implement a comprehensive privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years."
While $100K is a tiny fine, still I applaud the Maryland AG for its work. Consumers now know far more than otherwise. I wonder what is happening in other states. What are your opinions of the allegations? Of the Snapchat settlements?