Snapchat: Ephemeral Gratification or Subversive Surveillance?

First of all, for those who are not familiar with the term “snapchat”, it’s a photo messaging system that can send photos or short videos on smartphones that last for a set amount of seconds set by the sender. These “snaps” are deleted from the recipient’s phone in a matter of seconds set by the sender. Some of the biggest questions people have are : where are the photos kept , are they deleted from the sender’s and the recipient’s phones permanently and can they be retrieved eventually? I will enlighten you as to how “Big Brother” may be watching.

Those of the older generations 30 and over probably shake their heads at snapchat knowing it is wise to be cautious about such things and rightly so. Those who are in their teens and 20s, are more prone to be adventurous where technology is concerned and take most everything at face value. They will tell you like you know nothing about surveillance glitches “Oh they say it’ll be gone in 10 seconds and no one will ever see me in that nude pose ever again”. They say the Snapchat creators were inspired by Anthony Weiner’s mishaps at texting nude photos. If only he had Snapchat! Adults wonder why there would be that urge to keep ephemeral images. It’s like asking your kids “why do you need to go to the beach on senior week?” The answer is obvious: to meet tons of seniors and to go crazy without adult supervision. Only one answer comes to mind that is at the forefront of our less than innocent thought process: those younger ones want to capture images that are probably embarassing, perhaps sexy and alluring and ones they feel won’t be seen by their parents or others resulting in punishment or future repercussions. WRONG !!!!!

Here’s the skinny about anything that is sent over some data server. Information can always be retrieved !!! Big Brother can always find ways to find out what you are doing ane when you are doing it. If someone captures images on their server, there is a way to retain it if it is needed. So your sexting and sexy lingerie photos or even nude photos are there residing on some server belonging to those services providing this photo app. Snapchat even claims that within the 30 day period before the snaps are deleted from their servers, if the federal law called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) asks them to reveal the Snaps to the requesting law enforcement agency they will have to allow it. Your privacy will not be your own at that point.

In layman’s terms, when a snap is viewed and the timer runs out, the app notifies their servers, which in turn will notify the sender that the snap has been opened. Once they have been notified that a snap has been opened by all of its recipients, it is deleted from Snapchat servers. If a snap is still not opened after 30 days, it will be deleted from Snapchat servers for good. Can some group or company retrieve this even after the 30 days ? Sure. Digital forensics is a huge thing out there and anything can be retrieved. Here’s the caveat: HOWEVER and this is a big HOWEVER, what if someone in that company someday programmed the software to retain the snaps somewhere in their information servers permanently. Would they let us know openly?  What if we just didn’t know it? What if someone hacked into it and retrieved those embarassing pictures? Do you want all those embarassing snaps out in the open ? What if some government agency wanted to open those files? What if the company was bought out by another that did things differently. All the ephemeral moments of unabashed indulgence that  you did not want parents, spouses, bosses to see will be out in the open market. Something to think about.

Also, there is a way to actually save the images before the seconds expire and the image is lost to the recipient. Here’s an article that tells you just how: Secretly Save Your Snapchats

So, next time you feel the urge to send that embarassing or explicit picture, think who else may be watching other than the recipient. Ephemeral gratification may not always be so transient after all!


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