Snapchat add-on leaks thousands of compromising photos of teens

Simone Wolberg

Privacy advocates are abuzz after 13 gigabytes of images were stolen from a third-party Snapchat app called SnapSaved.com, an unauthorized web tool which links to Snapchat accounts and allows users to save photos and videos.

Among the thousands of photos leaked from SnapSaved were nudes and other compromising images of teenagers, the largest user base of Snapchat.

“The big issue with Snapchat is that just because the company says that it’s safe doesn’t mean it is actually safe,” said Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director and Digital Rights Analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Jeschke believes that you cannot trust these companies because the source code that “determines whether [Snapchat] is encrypted or protected is not available for security professionals and the general public to audit.”

Snapchat released a statement stating, “We can confirm that Snapchat’s servers were never breached and were not the source of these leaks.  Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely because they compromise our users’ security.”  Jeschke believes that although Snapchat’s own servers were not directly targeted, they are to blame for not warning the public of the risk of third party apps which link to private accounts.

“I think [Snapchat’s] statement is a bit of an easy answer. People shouldn’t have to be security experts to use these kinds of tools,” Jeschke said. “You should be able to trust a company when they have unique and private information. We need more robust tools [for the public] because right now it’s hard to know how to evaluate a company.”

This isn’t the first time Snapchat has encountered problems with third party applications.  Applications such as Snapbox, SnapGrab and Snapcrack are among many third party apps which continue to use Snapchat’s API without authorization.

In a separate statement to Wired Magazine, Snapchat wrote, “We have been successful in removing dozens of these third party apps from the iTunes App Store and Google Play and continue to aggressively pursue the removal of the remaining apps and new ones that crop up.” Although this may be the case, many third party apps are still in existence and are easily accessible on various smartphone platforms.

Jeschke believes that Snapchat should do more to ensure its data is secure. In addition to undergoing an expert security audit, Jeschke believes that Snapchat should publish a clear list of risky versus protected third party apps to ensure a security breach does not happen again.

Junior Michael Schwartz believes that people who download these applications should be aware of the inherent privacy issues, and that Snapchat is not to blame.

“I trust Snapchat and all that it has to offer, and I think that people who use the third-party apps are responsible for themselves,” Schwartz said.

No substantial court cases have been formed against Snapchat or any other social media applications regarding charges of defamation, or the loss of one’s reputation, due to photo leaks.

“The security of an app can sometimes be mandated by the Federal Trade Commission regarding safe consumer practices, but we haven’t seen much in the form of court cases against specifics applications because it is kind of a brave new world here,” Jeschke said.

Jeschke believes that this Snapchat photo breach should not be treated any less serious than a leak of written communications.  “You have the right to a private life.  It is just wrong to say, ‘Oh, you should have known better’ when Snapchat did not try and inform its users,” Jeschke said.  “That’s not how it should work legally or morally.”