The leaked pictures first showed up on 4Chan (an event cleverly billed as “The Snappening”), but have since spread out to a variety of other sites. Again, this is not uncommon, except for the fact that Snapchat’s biggest claim to fame is that once you send your photo to the recipient, it vanishes into the ether. There are ways around it, but none that let you save the photo without the sender knowing.
So when this leak occurred, everyone looked to Snapchat who immediately said, “Nuh-uh, not us!” In a recent Venturebeat article, Snapchat said their servers were never breached. Instead the company turned it around and blamed it on users who saved pictures using a third party app called Snapsaved. The app offered Snapchat users a way to save photos they received without that embarrassing notification and got some traction in 2013 when the Huffington Post wrote an article about it.
While it is easy to understand Snapchat’s position, does it really help them to turn to victim-blaming as a means of deflecting attention away? And let’s look at this from a practical standpoint, the people whose pictures were leaked were in all probability NOT the ones using the third-party app. It was the person they were sending the pictures to. So, given that these individuals BELIEVED the hype that Snapchat gets rid of every photo, the only crime these victims can be charged with is decidedly poor judgment in trusting the recipient of their photo.
To put it in analog terms: a person takes a polaroid of themselves in the bedroom and gives it to someone with the James Bond caveat of “burn after reading.” Instead that person sticks it in their gym locker or desk drawer and someone else steals it and posts it on a bulletin board. Is it the photo-taker’s fault?
So, given these two very high-profile incidents, there are some hard lessons that can be taken away from this:
1. No matter what a webpage, website, web-whatever tells you, if you post something on the Internet it is going to be there forever. Wait, that should be in caps…FOREVER!
2. Even if you think what you’re sharing is just between the two of you, it’s not. Privacy on the Internet is a fallacy and unless you have some mad ninja Internet skills, anything you do online can be tracked.
As if all of this weren’t disturbing enough, something mentioned in a Business Insider article should raise a lot of red flags for parents. “Over half of the app’s (Snapchat) users are aged between 13 and 17.” The hack of Snapsaved is believed to have affected an estimated 200,000 users. Which means statistically speaking, some percentage of these leaked photos constitute child pornography.
So let’s add another, equally important, takeaway to the list:
3. Parents, talk to your children about the fallacy of Internet privacy. Talk to them about what it is they’re doing on the Internet and if necessary, demand access periodically to be certain they are not either accessing or taking photos. As a parent, I generally decry such tactics, but the pitfalls are too many and too deep. Far from a worst case scenario, the tale of a 13 year old trapped into five years of sending nude photos of herself should at least serve as an incentive to maintain a degree of watchfulness.
The bottom line here is that it is true Snapchat is not to blame. But neither are the victims, embarrassed to find their “secret” photos online, and it is a specious argument to try to blame them. You can blame the hackers, certainly, but it doesn't change the reality that those photos are now on the Internet and are going to be there forever. If not that group of hackers, it would have been another.
The real blame can be squarely placed on the mistaken belief in Internet privacy. That particular piece of innocence in the digital age needs to be lost forever.
What do you think? Can Internet privacy be achieved?