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Snapchat must either grow up or risk disappearing

Matt Kapko | June 12, 2014
Snapchat had a rough May, and that's even before taking into account the massive competitive threats it faces from Apple and Facebook. The company has a lot of growing up to do. And it better do it fast.

Los Angeles had an unseasonably warm winter followed by an even drier spring. This year's fire season wasn't much of one, insomuch as the fact it never really ended. Everyone who lives here knows these record-breaking heat waves fueled by the Santa Ana winds are just the beginning. Summer is coming.

Weather has a way of putting things in perspective. Snapchat may not see the connection yet, but for a company that calls the Venice neighborhood of this city home, the changing climate cannot be ignored. Even though the heat began to wane outside last month, Snapchat is still sweating.

The remainder of 2014 will be a defining one for Snapchat and certainly it's most challenging thus far. How the company reacts to recent moves from Apple and Facebook, and overcomes its privacy issues with regulators and consumer advocates will be an important test.

May was an especially rough month for Snapchat, but it didn't start out that way.

Taking Hits on Privacy From the FTC and EFF

The company reached an agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle charges it had deceived consumers over the amount of data it collects on users and made false promises about the disappearance of messages sent through its app. Under the terms of the settlement, Snapchat is now "prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users' information." Snapchat is also required to implement a privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years.

"If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez writes in the agency's announcement. "Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action."

Before the ink even dried on its settlement with the FTC, Snapchat was in hot water again, this time with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The non-profit committed to defending civil liberties in the digital age scored Snapchat at the bottom of the pack in its annual review of technology and communications firms titled " Who Has Your Back?

Snapchat earned recognition in only one of the six criteria measured by the organization. "This is particularly troubling because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data, including potentially compromising photographs of users. Given the large number of users and non-users whose photos end up on Snapchat, Snapchat should publicly commit to requiring a warrant before turning over the content of its users' communications to law enforcement. We urge them to change course," the EFF writes in the report.


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