Not even Snapchat can save us from ourselves

3651166734_37260ea32f_z(Photo courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller)

While preparing for work this morning, the casual banter went as follows:

My Partner: “Are you ready to go?”

Me: “No, I’m reading some article about Snapchat.”

MP: “Is that the one about the security issue where they leaked-”

Me: “Names and phone numbers?”

MP: “Yeah… But we should get Snapchat anyway, I want to send you naked pictures.”

My point in contributing this anecdote is that it illustrates something sorely missing in today’s public outcry: your biggest threat to privacy (not to mention dignity and pride) on Snapchat remains the character of the people receiving your messages. I don’t want to get into the history of whether or not Snapchat misled users through faulty features intended to safeguard against screenshots, but instead I want to argue that at its crux, sending any kind of ultra-personal or incriminating information is still a matter of social trust between yourself and the info’s recipients. While it’s true that organizations claiming to provide a secure space or conduit for that information are responsible to deliver, whether by ensuring that no one meddles with your post, taps your phone line, or presses their ear to the other side of the door, these communication enablers/providers are not liable for what your friends, lovers, and acquaintances do with your sensitive information.

In this day and age, I don’t ever assume that my name and phone number are ‘personal information’. They are easily skimmed from the phonebook or online databases and while I think that telemarketing should be illegal just in the same way David Eaves argues that physical junk mail should be treated like spam and legislated against, I accept that these fundamental pieces of data are public in order to prove my existence as a real person (the same way I’m obligated to give my home address to everyone from grocery stores to health care providers in exchange for services). What’s getting lost in all the hoopla and smearing of this start-up is that they didn’t actually leak anyone’s incriminating photos. They continue to provide an app with radically different affordances from leading social media, which are rapidly becoming archives of our lives (see Zhao et al., 2013), that allows people to share things for a limited amount of time rather than having them available to the whole world long after their death*. Until something goes wrong with that functionality (i.e. a Snapchat database of every incriminating photo leaked on to the web) it’s really up to your BFF, your partner, or your special friend to uphold the often unspoken social contract that defines decency** as refraining from saving and redistributing others’ personal information.

*E.g. Facebook memorial pages – see Marwick & Ellison, 2012

**Not to mention respect for privacy as well as lawfulness since defamation of character is still illegal.

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