Privacy Concerns

From Snapchat to Whisper: Blindly Trusting Companies With Your Privacy Is Stupid

As of August, disappearing message service Snapchat was said to have more than 100 million monthly users. Anonymous message-sharing app Whisper, though it hasn't announced anything publicly, is said to have accumulated "millions of users" since launching in 2012.

In other words, millions and millions of people are sharing super-private and sensitive information over apps they think are anonymous and will protect their privacy -- in this era of NSA surveillance and malicious hackers.

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it? Let me explain.

Earlier this year, hackers leaked the names and phone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users. Last weekend, a different group of hackers tapped into a third-party Snapchat client called SnapSaved and released approximately 100,000 photos and videos that are now being shared like crazy on sites like Reddit.

Related: 'The Snappening' Really Happened: 100,000 Snapchat Photos and Videos Leak Online

As you might imagine, many of the leaked photos weren’t G-rated. It's worth noting here that around half of Snapchat’s users are said to be between the ages of 13 and 17.

In its defense, Snapchat says it’s not responsible for the leak and that nothing was taken from its servers. “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,” the company said in a statement.

Now comes a report from the Guardian that some people who use Whisper are monitored by the company even after opting out of geolocation services. User data is collated and "indefinitely stored in searchable databases" and that the company shares some that information with U.S. Department of Defense, according to the report.

Whisper says the Guardian article is bogus. "Whisper does not collect nor store any personally identifiable information from users and is anonymous," the company said in an emailed statement to Business Insider. "There is nothing in our geolocation data that can be tied to an individual user and a user’s anonymity is never compromised." 

Related: Facebook Reportedly Developing App for Anonymous Social Interaction

Do these companies have a responsibility to deliver on the promises of privacy and anonymity that they make? Yes, of course. To cover their asses, though, they use their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy pages to warn users against using their apps to share private, personal information.

And it's true. People shouldn't use any online tool to store or send private information without understanding the risks of getting hacked. Look at what happened recently with celebrities and their naked photos being hacked from their Apple iCloud accounts. 

What's stupid is that people blindly trust the clever marketing of apps like Snapchat to share and then destroy their very personal pictures and messages -- and then act surprised when they're leaked. In this time of hackers and government surveillance, we should be skeptical. We should expect that anything posted online or to an app can or will be collected and stored by someone.

(I expect a protest from Mark Cuban about how Cyberdust really does delete your messages...)

Or perhaps the issue is that people don't value their privacy enough. Why is it that people freak out when Facebook sells information to advertisers or conducts "social experiments," but parents allow their children to use apps like Snapchat when services like these are popularly used for "sexting?"

Yes, this is a rant. But it's a rant worth having. Please share your opinions on the topic in the comments below.

Related: Why the Naked Celeb Photo iCloud Hack Should Make You Nervous