The photos you send via Snapchat may not really go away, but your rights disappear in a flash
By now you’ve probably heard about what’s been called “The Snappening” – the leak of at least 90,000 photos and 9,000 videos sent by users of Snapchat – users who probably thought those images would disappear after ten seconds.
After all, that is Snapchat’s big selling point. But now there is reason for Snapchat users – and their parents – to be very, very concerned. As Marlow Stern writes in The Daily Beast:
Because of its “self-destruct” reputation, the app is a popular tool among youngsters for transmitting sexually explicit material. Snapchat claims that 50 percent of its users are between 13-17 years of age, this potentially brings “The Snappening” into child pornography territory.
That’s enough to scare any parent of a Snapchat user. But as we explain below, while Snapchat may not have done a good job of protecting its users’ security, it’s doing a great job of protecting itself. Snapchat makes your rights disappear – by using a pernicious practice known as forced arbitration.
Snapchat says the massive leak of photos and videos is not the company’s fault. They issued a statement blaming it all on third-party applications which work around the self-destruct feature:
As the news site CNET reports:
The company did not answer questions about what steps it has taken to warn its users about these third-party services aside from its Terms of Service.
Chris Eng, vice president of research at computer-security research firm Veracode, said Snapchat has “a history of not taking security seriously.” [One of the third-party apps] was in the [Google Play Store] since 2013. That alone suggests to me that they’re not being very aggressive’ about policing third-party apps, Eng said.
Similarly, in a commentary for Wired Prof. Woodrow Hartzog of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University writes:
The guidance and rules are buried in the fine print with no explanation for the ban on third-party software. This dense, boilerplate agreement places the burden of securing against this attack on the party in the relationship least likely to have knowledge of the vulnerability—the user. People who relied upon the app’s implicit promise of ephemera and relative safety wouldn’t be wrong to feel betrayed by Snapchat’s “it’s not us, it’s you” attitude.
And last May Snapchat settled a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC charged that Snapchat’s claims about messages and photos disappearing forever were “false or misleading.”
Snapchat has a forced arbitration clause. We document all the ways firms like Snapchat use forced arbitration to stack the deck against consumers in our video Lost in the Fine Print.
Forced arbitration means that Snapchat users, instead of being able to stand up for their rights in court, will have to go before a private arbitrator. It also means that Snapchat chooses the arbitrator, Snapchat decides where the arbitration will take place (Los Angeles County – no matter where the victim happens to live), and Shapchat requires that the proceedings be secret. There is no effective way to appeal. And the victims and their parents can’t band together to bring their legal action; each must take on Snapchat individually.
Given how the deck is stacked, it’s no wonder that one study found that, in consumer disputes, the consumer forced into forced arbitration loses 94 percent of the time.
But there is one thing we can do. If you’re a Snapchat user go to our action page where you can demand that Snapchat stop using forced arbitration. You can demand the same of many other companies with which you’re doing business.
When the time comes to decide, once and for all, if Snapchat has any responsibility for the leaking of 90,000 photos and 9,000 videos, shouldn’t that decision be made by a judge and a jury – not an arbitrator chosen by Snapchat?
Watch our video, Lost in the Fine Print, and find out much more about forced arbitration.