Snapchat: Harmless or Hazardous?

Is Snapchat really as private as it seems?


Emma Wolters

Freshman Mikaela Ichiyasu poses for a photo while sending a snapchat on her iPhone. Snapchatting has become more popular among younger generations, new users of the app surpass the amount that Facebook garners in news users, and may not be as safe or private as the company advertises.

You send a snap to a friend, they open it, and it disappears, right? Not exactly. As it turns out, Snapchat isn’t as private as it’s depicted to be.

Currently, Snapchat has over 30 million users, the majority of them being teens. More young adults are switching from other social networking sites over to Snapchat every day. According to Time magazine, Facebook has lost more than 11 million teenage users since 2011 while Snapchat has continued to grow in user size.

“I use Snapchat because you can show other people what you’re doing or what other activities are going on that you can see. On Snapchat, you can take a picture and show them everything you see,” said Jason Elzinga, sophomore and frequent Snapchat user.

One of the main presumptions that users have about Snapchat is that once the timer is up on the sent picture, it self destructs, never to be seen again. This could not be more wrong. In reality, smartphones of Snapchat users actually save all images in a folder called RECEIVED_IMAGES_SNAPS, which can be hacked. All of the “deleted” photos are simply hiding.

Another flaw in Snapchat’s system is screenshots. This enables you to take a picture of a photo that was sent, allowing you to view it whenever you want, for however long you want. SnapChat also employs a “shaming” feature that notifies the sender when you screenshot their picture.

“Yeah, I get notifications that people screenshot my pictures a lot,” said Elzinga.

Everyone who uses this app has probably either received a notification that their photo was screenshotted, or has taken a screenshot of another user’s picture. But hey, it tells you every time someone screenshots it, right? Not at all. It only takes a quick Google search on how to screenshot pictures without the other user knowing to find numerous ways to game this system.

Besides screenshots, there’s an additional way to save the pictures you send forever: Snaphack. Snaphack is an app that lets you save and open the Snapchats you receive as many times as you wish. This means that if one of your pictures is opened within this app, it can be saved, opened, and distributed without your knowledge. Scary, right?

“I didn’t know that apps like that existed,” said freshman Michael Sena.

“I don’t believe teens realize how dangerous Snapchat is, and that it can put them in a bad situation” said School Resource Officer Cristi Gordanier. Gordanier also believes that with Snapchat, teens think they can take inappropriate pictures or videos and not get caught.

Another scary topic often associated with Snapchat is sexting. Though a small percentage actually use Snapchat for this purpose, it still happens, and there are still consequences. According to the New York Post, 10 teenage boys in Montreal were charged with child pornography for circulating sexual pictures of girls they received via Snapchat.

The girls eventually agreed to sending pictures after being convinced that they would disappear. The boys were able to hack into their phones’ folders and save the photos.

In the state of Colorado, it is a felony to possess, distribute, and create sexual pictures of minors. Merely possessing a picture, even if it is of yourself is considered child pornography (if under 18). According to Gordanier, that means simply sending an inappropriate picture is producing, possessing, and distributing the photo, which would be three felonies. The consequences of doing so could be jail, fines, and being required to register as a sex offender.

Beyond all of that, Snapchat can legally share your pictures with law enforcement.  All of the sent snaps are saved on Snapchat servers until the recipient opens it, or 30 days after being sent. During that time, police can view the snaps as long as they have a warrant. Snaps created with the new feature, Stories stay on the server for 24 hours. And if the police don’t have a warrant, Snapchat can be legally obligated to keep snaps on the server past this time period until a warrant is available. Snapchat stated in a 2013 company blog post that they had given law enforcement unopened Snapchats around a dozen times.

Despite all of this, many users still refuse to acknowledge the risks involved with Snapchat, believing that no one would have a reason to hack their files, or save their pictures. In the beginning of January an anonymous hacker released usernames and phone numbers of about five million users. This came as no surprise to the company, though. They were warned months in advance about a possible leak, but did nothing of it. Even though no pictures were disclosed, it seems as though it will only be a matter of time before a larger hack occurs, and more than just usernames are revealed.

What advice would officials give to staying safe on Snapchat?  “Don’t do anything stupid or that could endanger yourself or anyone else,” said Gordanier.