In re: Snapchat
- EPIC Urges FTC To Strengthen Privacy Settlement With Uber: In detailed comments to the Federal Trade Commission, EPIC urged the FTC to strengthen a proposed settlement with Uber. The FTC's investigation and subsequent settlement was prompted by EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. EPIC recommended that the FTC require Uber to end collection of customer data beyond what is necessary to provide the service and to mandate that Uber implement stronger privacy safeguards. As EPIC highlighted in the original complaint, Uber has a history of abusing consumer privacy. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC is obligated to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement. (Sep. 15, 2017)
- EPIC Urges Public Comments on FTC Settlement with Uber: EPIC is urging the public to comment on the proposed FTC settlement with Uber regarding consumer privacy. (Federal Register Notice). The FTC settlement follows EPIC's 2015 complaint, which detailed Uber's secretive tracking of customers and surreptitious collection of user data. The proposed settlement requires regular privacy audits of Uber by third parties but fails to make substantial changes in the companies business practices or require the company to delete the personal data that was wrongfully obtained. The deadline to file a comment with the FTC is September 15, 2017. The FTC is required to consider public comments before finalizing a proposed settlement. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC also recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases. (Sep. 6, 2017) More top news »
Snapchat is a mobile photo-sharing application that claims to allow users to take photos and videos that will self-destruct permanently after the recipient views them. Snapchat advertised its app as a way for users to send photos, videos, and messages without having those messages stored on the recipient’s mobile device.
Snapchat stated that it allowed users to “Snap an ugly self or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They'll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears.” Snapchat’s app descriptions in the App Store and Google Play stated, “You control how long your friends can view your message” and that after time expires “it disappears forever.”
However, the images that Snapchat claims are deleted are in fact stored on Snapchat users’ phones. Snapchat simply changed the file extension to .NOMEDIA, cloaking the file from the user. But by removing the .NOMEDIA extension, the pictures become viewable again.
On May 16, 2013, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Snapchat's "unfair and deceptive" trade practices. In the complaint, EPIC explained that Snapchat represented to millions of consumers that their photos would be deleted after a designated period of time. By simply masking the files rather than actually deleting them, Snapchat deceived consumers about the company's business practices.
The FTC Act prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices, and empowers the Commission to enforce the Act’s prohibitions. Under the Act, a business practice is deceptive if it "involves a representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer acting reasonably under the circumstances," and is "material," or meaningful to the consumer. The FTC presumes that an omission is material where “the seller knew, or should have known, that an ordinary consumer would need omitted information to evaluate the product or service, or that the claim was false . . . because the manufacturer intended the information or omission to have an effect.”
In the complaint, EPIC charged Snapchat with engaging in deceptive business practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. EPIC explained that Snapchat's misrepresentations were likely to mislead reasonable users. Further, these misrepresentations were "material," since they described the very feature most likely to attract users to Snapchat.
On May 8, 2014, a little less than a year after EPIC filed the complaint, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had reached a proposed settlement agreement and consent order with Snapchat. In announcing the settlement, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said, "If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises. Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action." Under the settlement, Snapchat will be subject to 20 years of privacy audits, and will be prohibited from making false claims about its privacy policies.
The FTC will be accepting comments on the proposed settlement agreement and consent order until June 8, 2014.
EPIC is the group responsible for several of the Federal Trade Commission's major privacy decisions, including:
- Microsoft. FTC, "Microsoft Settles FTC Charges Alleging False Security and Privacy Promises: Passport Single Sign-In, Passport "Wallet," and Kids Passport Named in Complaint Allegations" (Aug. 8, 2002)
- Choicepoint. FTC, "ChoicePoint Settles Data Security Breach Charges; to Pay $10 Million in Civil Penalties, $5 Million for Consumer Redress: At Least 800 Cases of Identity Theft Arose From Company's Data Breach" (Jan. 26, 2006)
- Google Buzz. FTC, "FTC Charges Deceptive Privacy Practices in Google's Rollout of Its Buzz Social Network: Google Agrees to Implement Comprehensive Privacy Program to Protect Consumer Data" (Mar. 30, 2011)
- Facebook. FTC, "Facebook Settles FTC Charges That It Deceived Consumers By Failing To Keep Privacy Promises" (Aug. 10, 2012)
- Dominic Rushe, Regulators reprimand Snapchat over false claims about messaging service, The Guardian (May 8, 2014)
- Jenna Wortham, Off the Record in a Chat App? Don’t Be Sure, The New York Times (May 8, 2014)
- Brett Molina, Snapchat settles privacy complaint with FTC, USA Today (May 8, 2014)
- Keith Wagstaff, Snapchat Gets 20 Years of Scrutiny Over FTC Privacy Charges, NBC News (May 8, 2014)