In re: Snapchat

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  • 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 »
  • Following EPIC Complaint, Uber Agrees To Stop Tracking Riders » (Aug. 29, 2017)
    Uber has ended the practice of tracking customers before and after they are picked up. In 2015, Uber announced the company would track the location of riders from the time they ordered a ride until after they had reached their destination. EPIC promptly filed a complaint with the FTC and stated that "This collection of user's information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service." The end to Uber's tracking of riders comes two weeks after Uber entered into a consent agreement with the FTC following a complaint filed EPIC that highlighted Uber's history of misusing customer data. But EPIC said the FTC settlement does not go far enough. "The FTC should have imposed stronger sanctions on Uber, required the company to disgorge the personal data it had unlawfully obtained, and required the company to restore the original privacy settings," said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg. EPIC has previously pursued FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
  • After EPIC Privacy Complaint, Uber Settles with FTC » (Aug. 15, 2017)
    After an EPIC complaint about Uber's privacy practices, Uber has entered into a consent agreement with the FTC. The agreement prohibits Uber from misrepresenting how it monitors or secures consumer information. As with most FTC privacy settlements, the agreement also requires Uber to implement a comprehensive privacy program and obtain periodic independent third-party audits. In 2015, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details was an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cited Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission should act. EPIC has previously pursued successful FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. EPIC recently filed an FTC complaint to stop Google from tracking in-store purchases.
  • EPIC Files FTC Complaint to Stop Google from Tracking In-Store Purchases » (Jul. 31, 2017)
    EPIC has filed a complaint with the FTC asking the Commission to investigate Google's tracking of in-store purchases. According to EPIC, Google collects billions of credit and debit card transactions and then links that personal data to the activities of Internet users. Google claims that it protects online privacy but refuses to reveal details of the algorithm that "deidentifies" consumers while tracking their purchases. EPIC's complaint asks the FTC to stop Google's tracking of in-store purchases and determine whether Google adequately protects consumer privacy. EPIC has filed several successful FTC complaints that led to FTC investigations, including complaints about changes to Facebook's privacy preferences and the launch of Google Buzz. EPIC has also focused on the adequacy of privacy techniques, with complaints against AskEraser (search histories that are not deleted) and Snapchat (images that do not "vanish"). EPIC's recent complaint against Google notes that the company is seeking to extend its dominance of online advertising to the physical world.
  • News Report: FTC to Act on EPIC's Uber Complaint » (Jun. 15, 2017)
    According to news reports, the FTC is pursuing EPIC's privacy complaint regarding Uber. In 2015, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Uber's plan to track users and gather contact details was an unlawful and deceptive trade practice. EPIC cited Uber's history of misusing customer data as one of many reasons the Commission should act. EPIC has previously pursued successful FTC complaints concerning Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. The FTC complaints typically lead to settlements following a change in business practices. EPIC has also recommended comprehensive privacy legislation for Uber.
  • Not So Picture Perfect: Snapchat Will Store User Content Forever » (Nov. 2, 2015)
    Snapchat, a popular mobile app that promised "to vanish" user messages, photos, and videos, will now store user content forever, following changes to its terms and conditions. Snapchat now claims the right to "host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, . . .and publicly display" users' content forever. This change may violate the 2014 consent order with the Federal Trade Commission, which prohibits Snapchat from making false claims about how the company protects user information. The FTC's 2014 consent order resulted from EPIC's complaint which stated that the company violated Section 5 because "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted."
  • FTC Finalizes Snapchat Settlement » (Jan. 2, 2015)
    The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order with Snapchat, the messaging service that falsely promised that messages sent and received through the service would "disappear forever.” The Commission’s investigation and initial proposed consent order followed a complaint filed by EPIC in 2013. EPIC brought the complaint against Snapchat after a researcher discovered that Snapchat photos could be retrieved by others after they should have vanished. EPIC also filed comments regarding the Commission's proposed consent order, expressing support for the Commission’s findings but recommending that Snapchat should be required to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and make Snapchat's privacy assessments publicly available. 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. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
  • Senator Rockefeller Questions Whisper About Privacy Practices » (Oct. 24, 2014)
    Senator Rockefeller has asked Whisper to answer several questions about the company's practices and policies. Whisper said that it does not track users and that it respects users' decisions to opt out of geolocational tracking. But the Guardian revealed that Whisper tracks "the precise time and approximate location of all messages" and specifically tracks certain users the company deems "newsworthy." Senator Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce has asked Whisper to explain its tracking, data retention, and disclosure practices. EPIC has several similar matters pending before the Federal Trade Commission. For more information, see EPIC: WhatsApp, EPIC: Snapchat, and EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC Urges FTC to Protect Snapchat Users' Privacy » (Jun. 10, 2014)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency to require Snapchat to safeguard consumer privacy. Following a 2013 EPIC complaint, the FTC signed a consent order with Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages users to share intimate photos and videos. Snapchat claimed that pictures and videos would "disappear forever," but that was false. As EPIC explained, "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted." EPIC expressed support for the findings in the proposed FTC Settlement with Snapchat. But EPIC recommended that the FTC require Snapchat to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and make Snapchat's independent privacy assessments publicly available. EPIC pursued similar claims involving false promises about data deletion with AskEraser. EPIC has also made similar recommendation for other proposed FTC consumer privacy settlements. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook, and EPIC: FTC.
  • EPIC's Snapchat Privacy Complaint Results in 20-Year FTC Consent Order » (May. 8, 2014)
    Following a 2013 EPIC complaint, the FTC has signed a consent order with Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages user to share intimate photos and videos. Snapchat claimed that pictures and videos would "disappear forever." However, the images could be retrieved by others. As EPIC wrote in the complaint "Snapchat photos and videos remain available to others even after users are informed that the photos and videos have been deleted." 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. EPIC pursued similar claims involve false promises about data deletion with AskEraser. The FTC will be accepting Public Comments on the proposed Snapchat consent order. For more information, see EPIC: In re Google, EPIC: In re Facebook and EPIC: FTC.
  • Snapchat Data Breach Exposes 4.6 Million Usernames » (Jan. 2, 2014)
    A data breach has exposed the usernames and partial phone numbers of 4.6 million users of Snapchat, a popular photo- and video-sharing app. The breach was accomplished by exploiting a flaw that was previously brought to company's attention by security researchers. Last year, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Snapchat's deceptive claim that photos would "disappear forever" after a set period of time. The Federal Trade Commission has thus far failed to take action on the EPIC complaint. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.
  • EPIC Asks FTC to Investigate Snapchat » (May. 17, 2013)
    EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Snapchat, the publisher of a mobile app that encourages user to share intimate photos and videos. The company represents that users can make photos and videos "disappear forever." In fact, the photos can be retrieved by others after they should have vanished. The EPIC complaint implicates Privacy Enhancing Technologies, which if properly implemented would minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. The FTC described similar methods in a 2012 privacy report. Previously, EPIC filed a complaint at the FTC against AskEraser, which falsely represented that search queries would be deleted when in fact they were retained by the company and made available to law enforcement agencies. For more information, see EPIC: Federal Trade Commission.

Background on Snapchat

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.

EPIC's Complaint

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.

The FTC's Response

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 and the FTC

EPIC is the group responsible for several of the Federal Trade Commission's major privacy decisions, including:

News Reports

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