Snapchat – Good Fun or a False Sense of Security?

Snapchat is a hot app with young people around the world. In February of 2013, it boasted 60 million snaps sent per day, with over 5 billion snaps in total, and it’s still gaining in popularity. It's one of the top 20 apps in the US, with most users aged from teens to mid-twenties.

Funnily enough, plenty of parents haven't heard of it.

So what is Snapchat?

Essentially, it is a photo-sharing app with a twist. Snapchat lets you determine how long the recipient can view your picture or video, from 1 to 10 seconds. After that, it self-destructs. Young people love it for sending goofy selfies to one another for a laugh.

The app’s creators were aiming to combat the lack of privacy on Facebook and other social media platforms, where users’ data is collected, stored, analysed, and sold for the benefit of the platform. Today's young people are increasingly aware of their digital footprint, so the idea behind Snapchat is attractive. It’s like reclaiming privacy.

Except that it isn’t. Even Snapchat’s creators acknowledge that you can’t be 100 per cent sure that the recipient hasn’t saved your photo in some way—by screenshot or a snapshot of the photo taken with another device. Snapchat advises the sender with a message if the recipient takes a screenshot, which isn’t a problem if harmless hilarity is the point of the photo. Sometimes, the selfies aren't funny–they're “sexy.”

“The Sexting App”

Snapchat may have been devised with good intentions, but unfortunately some users have cottoned on to its usefulness in sexting. Sexting is when a person sends a naked, semi-naked, or sexually-suggestive photo of her/himself to another person by text message. Some have dubbed it “the new flirting,” a term which dangerously normalises the activity, particularly for the underaged.

One Australian survey reported that 20% of teens were engaging in the practice. When the sender and/or receiver is underage, the activity can be considered trafficking child pornography, and both sender and receiver could be prosecuted. 2011 saw 459 reported cases of sexting in Queensland, the highest rate in the country (Australia) (Atkins, 2011).

False Sense of Security

Because Snapchat photos supposedly disappear, users feel more secure that their pictures won’t be used wrongly. The trouble is, of course, there are no guarantees. Recently, Rick Hickman, a forensics examiner proved he could recover data on an Android phone. Apparently, Snapchat photos don't self-destruct; rather, they hide in a folder on the cell phone–and Hickman has the specialised forensics software to extract them. His firm, Decipher Forensics in Utah, recovers supposedly deleted photos and other data from phones. His clients include courts, police, and parents, who are willing to pay around $400 for the service.

Teens need to know the photos never go away. Snapchat doesn't make any promises in its privacy policy, so don't risk it.

The Moral of the Snapchat Story

Don’t assume that the presence of a Snapchat app on your teen’s device is evidence of sexting. Lots of kids goof around with it harmlessly. However, statistically speaking, twenty per cent of teens are sexting, so heed your parental intuition. Either way, it is worth reminding all kids of the ancient Chinese maxim: If you don’t want anyone to find out, don’t do it.

Want to know more? Here's a great article with a short video about Snapchat.

More to worry about:
This video tells about a new website, Snapchat Leaked, that encourages people to post screenshots of snapchat sexts. If your teen has Snapchat, show them this video.









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