Snapchat collects a lot of data from every user. This includes:
- Identifying information: including your name, email address, birth date, and phone number.
- App activity: all those snaps might disappear once the recipient views them, but Snapchat is saving them (at least for some amount of time).
- Usage and user information: the app monitors how often you send snaps, who you send them to, what kind of device you’re using, your mobile carrier, and even location information.
- Third-party advertiser information: Snapchat collects this data from advertisers to further build your Snapchat profile in their databases and refine their advertising strategies.
- Data from friends: Snapchat collects information from users’ contact lists and saves that data (even for people not using the app).
There are ways to minimize the amount of information Snapchat collects about you. You can:
- Turn off location tracking: resist the urge to enable Locations in SnapMap. With it turned off, the app must rely on much more generalized information to determine your location.
- Enable Ghost Mode: this eliminates the ability of the app to track your location while using the app.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN): cloak your app activity by routing everything through a Virtual Private Network.
If you’re looking for a VPN to help you secure the privacy of your Snapchat account, we recommend ExpressVPN. It offers a great value for money, with a high number of servers in the most countries, a very easy user interface, and great reliability and stability. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try it to find out for yourself if it meets your needs.
Every day, 280 million users around the world log in to a Snapchat account and collectively send more than 5 billion snaps. If you’re one of them, you might be too busy sending or receiving messages with friends to consider the privacy implications of using one of the world’s most popular instant messaging apps.
But anytime you go online, even if just to send that cute cat pic to your bestie, you should be wary. Privacy can be a fragile thing in cyberspace, as recent security breaches show. Without taking adequate precautions, your confidential info could fall into the wrong hands.
Before you send your next Snapchat message, it pays to understand what information the app collects about you and how they use it. This knowledge, combined with general internet safety tips, can help you maintain your privacy and let you safely keep on sending those snaps.
What Information Does Snapchat Collect in the App?
Some of the information Snapchat collects about you is obvious, although how they use the data may surprise you. Then there are the things they track that may make you raise your eyebrows in disbelief.
In today’s technology, any service you sign up for requires some personal information to create an account. Snapchat is no exception. To create an account, you’ll need to give the company some basic info, including:
- Your first and last name
- Your birthday
- Your email address
- Your mobile number (to validate your account)
Disclosure is the price you pay to use your favorite apps. In most cases, this information is relatively harmless, but not always.
If that data falls into the wrong hands, it can be combined with information from other sources to reveal more about you. For example, if your name, birthdate, and email info from Snapchat is exposed in security breach, cybercriminals can cross-reference that data with information they hacked from other sources to validate your identification and tie it to your other password-protected accounts. This means that, even if you made efforts to use different email addresses across different accounts to improve your security, any other account that uses your Snapchat email address is potentially at risk.
Messaging activity on the app
Even though the allure of Snapchat is the instantly disappearing nature of the content you send and receive, it doesn’t mean that data is gone forever. All the snaps you and your friends send each other are collected by the company and saved for some period of time.
If that alone doesn’t raise red flags, we should definitely talk about the how and why that Snapchat offers to save this information.
In 2019, the presence of an internal Snapchat software tool called Snaplion was revealed. Snapchat claimed it enabled the company to comply with valid law enforcement requests. However, anonymous sources within and outside the company confirmed the tool was improperly used by some employees to spy on Snapchat users.
Beyond what’s happening behind the scenes at Snapchat, you also run the risk of the recipient of your snaps saving your pics and videos outside the app. This is just another way you lose control of the information you share online.
Activity beyond your snaps
Besides capturing and saving all your messages, Snapchat also collects other, less obvious data. The company registers how often you use the app and who you text. Snapchat also tracks how often you text each friend. It knows how long it typically takes you to open a message from each friend, too. Snapchat even monitors which filters you prefer and the Stories you watch on Discover.
The social network also collects information about your device including what kind of phone you have and its operating system. Snapchat even tracks the mobile carrier providing your cell service. The app collects information from your phone’s sensors including your gyroscopes and compasses. The app also monitors your microphones and whether you have headphones connected.
If all that wasn’t enough, Snapchat collects information about your location, whether you have location tracking turned on or off. It monitors whether your device is in motion and in what direction. It also tracks location information through your device. Through nearby mobile towers and Wi-Fi, Snapchat can narrow down your location with reasonable accuracy.
What Information Does Snapchat Collect About Me from Other Sources?
It isn’t just your activity within the app that gives Snapchat a wealth of information about you. They also rely on third-parties to collect even more information about you, sometimes even if you don’t use the app.
Snapchat collects information from advertisers and other third parties to build a more complete profile of your interests. When you share information with an advertising partner of Snapchat, the company compiles that information with what it already knows.
If you install a new app or game from a company that advertises on Snapchat, the company will collect that information. This helps them determine if Snapchat showed you an ad for the product. This feedback makes advertising with Snapchat more valuable.
Anytime you interact with an advertiser on Snapchat, the company is informed of that interaction to better target their ads. This also helps Snapchat improve its measurements of how well advertising through their app works. This makes it easier for other businesses to calculate the expected return for their ad dollars.
Here’s one that might surprise – or even alarm – you. If a friend allows Snapchat access to their contact list and you’re one of their saved contacts, Snapchat collects information about you, even if you don’t use Snapchat. The shared information may include your name, email address, and phone number. Everything goes into the Snapchat database.
How Does Snapchat Use My Private Information?
One of the main purposes of collecting your information is to provide better targeting for advertisers. Companies like Snapchat try to phrase this as a benefit to you. Language such as “personalizing your experience” or “showing you more relevant ads” is often used to persuade you to accept a condition or turn on a specific app feature.
However, this practice neglects to highlight an important fact. The more personalized your profile is, the more advertisers are willing to pay to the companies collecting that data. Snapchat makes more money, and you start seeing scarily relevant advertisements. This is only possible because your private data was shared with paying advertisers.
Likewise, anytime you interact with an advertiser on your Snapchat account, the advertiser is informed of that interaction to better target their ads. Snapchat also benefits again, because it helps them improve the analytics on advertising performance in their app. They use this information to attract additional advertisers, because they can demonstrate higher returns on ad dollars.
The worst part about all this? You automatically allow Snapchat to do this when you sign up to use the app — or any app, actually. But you don’t have to go nuclear and delete your Snapchat account to avoid this. Let’s talk about how to protect your privacy while still using Snapchat.
How Can I See the Data Snapchat Has About Me?
When you want to find out all (or at least most of) the info Snapchat has on you, downloading your data is an easy way to find out. Here’s how to do that.
Download your Snapchat data file
- Open your Snapchat app.
- Tap your bitmoji (upper left corner of screen).
- Tap Settings (gear icon – upper right corner of screen).
- Scroll down and tap My Data.
- Log in to Snapchat with your username and password.
- Scroll down and tap Submit Request.
- You’ll receive a confirmation message telling you Snapchat will let you know once the file is ready.
Unzip and review your Snapchat data file
Once your data file is ready, you’ll receive an email from Snapchat.
- Open the email and follow the Click Here link.
- Log in to Snapchat with your username and password when prompted.
- You will be redirected to a Manage My Account screen.
- Tap My Data.
- Download the .zip file.
When you unpack and open the .zip file, you’ll find all your Snapchat data available for review.
How Snapchat Uses Location Tracking
Since its introduction in 2017, Snapchat’s Snap Map feature has been a source of concern for privacy experts everywhere.
While it seems like a fun way to share your location with friends in the app (Actionmojis, anyone?), there’s a darker sub-context to real-time location tracking. Snapchat avoids the usual language like “improving site performance and for advertising” or “monitor our site performance” when prompting you to turn on location tracking. Instead, they just tell you your Snapchat experience will be better. However, they still want the info for the same reason all other free apps want it: because location data is very valuable to advertisers.
You may never consent to giving Snapchat your home address or name of your employer, but with location tracking turned on that information is readily available to Snapchat and their advertisers.
With location tracking turned on, Snapchat (and their advertisers) can make educated guesses about:
- Your neighborhood’s affluence level.
- Your income: At many workplaces, the boss parks closer to the door than an entry level employee. By tracking how long you walk after parking at work, Snapchat can guess your position in a company. This gives advertisers insight into your likely annual income.
- New advertising opportunities: Walk into a golf shop and Snapchat thinks you’re in the market for new clubs. Now you’ll start seeing ads for golf equipment in the app.
- Sensitive health information: Visit a specialist doctor and Snapchat starts guessing at what kind of health issues you might have.
Say no to location tracking
When you first set up your Snapchat account, you will see the following screen. Tap “Skip” to avoid location tracking in the app.
If you didn’t opt out of location tracking when you first set up your Snapchat account, it’s easy to do so at any time:
- For iOS users, go to Settings > Snapchat > Location, then check “Never.”
- For Android users, go to Settings > Apps > Snapchat > Permissions, then disable the slider next to “Location.”
Opting out of location tracking when you use Snapchat makes it harder for the app to track your movements. While it won’t eliminate location information collection altogether, it does make the location data the app collects far more generic. Snapchat has to work harder for less valuable data, which gives you a small win when it comes to privacy.
Can I Protect My Privacy and Still Use Snapchat?
By now, you may be tempted to delete Snapchat, cancel your phone service, and throw your device in the nearest river. While that may seem cathartic in today’s always switched-on world, you don’t have to be that extreme (unless you want to be…in which case, we give you the instructions below.)
You can take a few simple steps to safeguard your Snapchat account privacy and still enjoy your favorite apps.
Update your Snapchat privacy settings
First, take a few minutes to walk through the Snapchat privacy settings. These allow you to take some control over your information. You can restrict data that is collected through the app and how Snapchat will use it.
Turn Ghost Mode on to further limit the location data available in the app. Keep in mind that even if you choose not to share your location with other Snapchat users, the app still can determine your location, unless you disable Location Tracking.
Use a VPN
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the best and easiest ways to safeguard your privacy while online. When using a VPN, you’re cloaking your IP address to mimic that of the VPN server you log in on. When you access the internet this way, your activities online are anonymous. Your searches cannot be traced back to your actual IP address.
A VPN also encrypts the data you send online, and transmits it through a secure VPN tunnel. This protects your sensitive data from prying eyes that don’t have your best interests in mind.
A VPN can also help you avoid geographic limitations when streaming video content online. You may also be able to avoid restrictions to internet access at work. Different services provide different benefits, so explore your options before choosing.
Our recommendation for the best VPN to help safeguard the privacy of your Snapchat account is ExpressVPN. The combination of speed, an exceptionally reliable and stable connection, and ease-of-use make this ideal for keeping you safe on the internet, whether you’re sending snaps or streaming your favorite Netflix series. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try it and see if you like it with no commitment. It isn’t the cheapest option on the market, but we think it’s worth the price.
Of course, we rate all the major VPN providers regularly, so you can check out other options to decide which is right for you.
- Very easy to use VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
Deleting Your Snapchat Account
If, after knowing how to safeguard your data, you still want to delete your Snapchat account, here’s how:
- Go to the Snapchat Accounts Portal website.
- Type in your username and password.
- Click Continue.
Your account will first be deactivated for 30 days before it’s permanently deleted. That way, if you change your mind during that time, you can just log back in to the app to reactivate your account. After 30 days, your account will be permanently deleted.
We use Snapchat to share precious moments with our friends and family. However, what we often don’t consider is that Snapchat isn’t doing this just to be nice. They – and every other app like them – have an ulterior motive. Every time you send a snap, the app collects lots of information about you.
Preserve your privacy as much as possible by adjusting your Snapchat privacy settings, turning off location tracking, and using a VPN whenever you go online. Does your kid want to create an account? Then make sure they use Snapchat in a safe way as well.
All the apps you use – especially the free ones – want your data. It’s up to you to take steps to keep it from them.
Didn’t find what you were looking for in the article? Check out the most often asked questions we get about Snapchat accounts and privacy.
To minimize the location tracking Snapchat does, verify you have that option turned off for Snapchat. You can check and, if needed, turn off that feature in your phone’s general settings.
- On iPhone: go to Settings > Snapchat > Location, then check the Never option.
- On Android: go to Settings > Apps > Snapchat > Permissions, then disable the slider next to Location.
When you turn on Ghost Mode, your location becomes invisible to friends and contacts on SnapMap. Your bitmoji is shown holding a blue sign, so people know you have Ghost Mode activated.
- Open the app.
- Tap on your bitmoji (upper left corner).
- Scroll down to Who Can…
- Tap on See My Location.
- Toggle Ghost Mode to ON.
- Decide how long you want to be in Ghost Mode – 3 hours, 24 hours, or until you manually turn it off.
You can download your entire Snapchat data file with a few clicks.
- Open your Snapchat app.
- Tap your bitmoji (upper left corner of screen)
- Tap Settings (gear icon – upper right corner of screen).
- Scroll down and tap My Data.
- Log in to Snapchat with your Username and Password.
- Scroll down and tap Submit Request.
- You’ll receive a confirmation message.
When your data file is ready, you’ll get an email from Snapchat with instructions on how to download the .zip file. In that file, you’ll find all the information the app has stored about you.
You can read more about Snapchat privacy here.