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How Secure Is Your Snapchat Information?

Snapchat-logoWhile Snapchat is beginning to catch on some among older users, still almost half of all Snapchat users are under the age of 25. There have been privacy concerns with Snapchat. By being aware of the limitations and risks of using the app, it is possible to safeguard your privacy. It only takes a few minutes to review your privacy settings and ensure the information available on you through the app. You can make sure that you only reveal the information you are comfortable with being public.

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The Story of Snapchat

Snapchat’s story begins in 2011 as founder Evan Spiegel imagines a new type of social network. Facebook and Twitter store your conversations providing a permanent record you can revisit. Snapchat, on the other hand, would strive to become a place where conversations happen more like real life.

Snapchat Snaps are like a conversation you have face to face with a friend. You say something, they say something. Three days later neither of you may remember exactly what was said in the conversation, but the act of talking to each other builds the relationship.

Rather than conversations being concrete and living on forever in your timeline, Snapchat designs its Snaps and Stories for living in the moment. You receive the chat, and it disappears, living only in your memory. After viewing, posts in Snapchat disappear or after a limited time you specify when you create and send them. That was the idea, anyway.

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Problems with the Story

By 2012, Snapchat had over 10 million users, primarily among teenagers. Teenagers were fleeing Facebook as their parents and grandparents started joining. By 2013, Facebook attempted to buy Snapchat for $3 billion – an offer Spiegel ultimately rejected. Snapchat continued its explosive growth based on its promise that posts in Snapchat disappeared forever. Snapchat was selling privacy and by August 2014, 40% of 18 year-olds were hooked.

Unfortunately, your Snaps were not quite as private as Snapchat had promised. Users were able to take screenshots from their phones, and many third-party apps appeared that would save photos and videos posted on Snapchat. The app may have transmitted your location without your knowledge and could in many cases collect information from your address book without asking.

Because Snapchat didn’t verify phone numbers from users when they signed up, fake accounts sprang up to collect information from users who thought they were chatting with a friend. This breach let 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers get into the wrong hands.

In a settlement with the FTC, it became clear that Snapchat couldn’t quite deliver on its promise to make your Snaps completely disappear forever after they were received. While the FTC did not fine Snapchat, they will monitor the company for privacy compliance for the next 20 years.

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Snapchat Privacy Today

A recent update to Snapchat has once again raised concern about privacy issues. The feature called Snap Map lets you share your location with friends in the app. By default, Snapchat turns location sharing off. Once turned on, though, it can be easy to forget you may be sharing your location with anyone who uses the app.

Fortunately, you can easily turn this feature off if you know where to look in the privacy settings. Snapchat has made improvements in communicating with users about how secure their information is. They are helping users be aware of ways to secure their Snaps. You can ensure you only share what you want to share, with who you want to share it.

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Snapchats Privacy Settings

To access your privacy settings, in the app tap your profile picture in the top left of the screen to access your profile. Tap the gear in the top right corner to access your settings. Scroll down till you see the heading “Additional Services” and tap on “Manage” to begin. Below we show what settings you can change to make your account more private.

Snapchat-settings

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Snapchat’s Targeted Ads

Scroll down to “Ad Preferences” and tap on it to pull up Snapchats advertising settings. Snapchat uses data it gets from your usage of the app to provide targeted advertisements to you. It also uses information gathered from advertisers about you to target ads to you as well. Both these options are selected by default. Uncheck “Audience-Based” to disable targeting based on information received from advertisers. Uncheck “Activity-Based” to disable ads targeted to you based on your activity in Snapchat.

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Manage Snapchat’s Use of Your Contacts

From the “Manage” menu, scroll down to Contacts. By default, Snapchat does not sync your contacts with the app. If you’ve given Snapchat permission to do so in the past, it will keep updating your contacts whenever you make a change. To turn this off, uncheck Sync Contacts. You can also view all the contacts you’ve synced with Snapchat, or delete all your contacts’ information from the app.

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Control Who You Allow to Contact You

Back in the settings menu, scroll down to the section headed, “Who Can…”. From here click on “Contact Me” to restrict who you allow to contact you. Snapchat only provides one option to restrict this setting, “My friends.”

In addition to Snaps, you can post Snaps to your Story. You have the option to show your Story to everyone or just your friends. You can even customize your Story to block certain friends from seeing any Snaps you add to your Story. Click on “View My Story” to access this setting.

If you have mutual friends or interests, Snapchat may recommend you to others in their Quick Add feature. If you prefer to keep your profile more private, tap on “See Me in Quick Add” and uncheck the box.

You can disable the controversial Snap Maps feature in this section as well, by tapping on “See My Location”. If Ghost Mode is checked, you are not sharing your location with anyone. This is Snapchat’s default mode. If you’ve chosen to share your location in the past, you can check Ghost Mode to hide your location from everyone. As an alternative, you can share your location with your friends, or select “Only These Friends…” to select just the friends you want to share your location with.

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Protecting Your Privacy Outside of Snapchat

VPN-explainedEven if you are careful about what you share in apps like Snapchat, you may be sharing more than you realize online. One easy way to safeguard your privacy online is to use the service of a quality VPN. A VPN helps keep your information anonymous online, protecting sensitive information as well as simply allowing you to maintain more privacy online. You can also avoid restrictions on which websites you can visit from your place of work, or geographic restrictions based on your location. To learn more, read our post about the functions of a VPNs.