Gone In a Snap: Snapchat Temporary Photo Sharing

Just over a year old, Snapchat has quickly become a popular photo messaging application, particularly among teens and young adults.


The free service offers a fast, temporary way to privately share photos. Users can add text and drawings, and share the images with specific friends. The user decides who receives the image and how long it will exist – a maximum of 10 seconds – after which, the image disappears, permanently. There’s even a competitive side to the service, with each user having a HISCORE, the total number of snaps sent and received between you and your friends,” according to the site.


While supposedly no one, not even Snapchat itself nor its employees can see your images – except, of course, the chosen recipients – this is not a foolproof sharing option. For one, the original image can be saved on the sender’s phone. Secondly, the savvy receiving user has the ability to snap a screenshot, saving the image on their device. Granted, that’s a bit tricky, as you have to touch the screen and hold your finger there in order to view an image, but it’s possible. Snapchat says that they notify the sender should that happen, but there is nothing the sender can do to retrieve said image. Savvy users may even have a second phone to photograph the image that appears on the first phone. There’s no way to track or block that action.


However, despite the apparent safety net of images disappearing, Snapchat cannot actually guarantee that message content will be deleted.  In the privacy policy, the company elaborates:


When you send or receive messages using the Snapchat services, we temporarily process and store your images in order to provide our services. Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.


According to its website, Snapchat is intended for use by people ages 13 and older (although the app details in iTunes say 12+) and encourages individuals under the age of 18 to seek parental permission. Yet, the sign up process never requested any age verification when I registered. I simply provided my email, a password and created a username. I was given the option to input my mobile number to see if my friends were already on Snapchat, too (none of which are using the service, in case you were wondering).


So, is Snapchat safer than sending a regular text? It seems so, at least in the technical terms of leaving a trail, provided that images are not floating around Snapchat’s servers and that screen shots are not an issue.

However, there is an ethical component to this service that bothers me. By erasing the photo, eliminating proof of an action, we are removing the user’s accountability. Often referred to as “the sexting app,” the potential for abuse of Snapchat is high. Applications like this open the door for students to make bad decisions. From bullying and invasions of privacy to sexting and embarrassing/thoughtless actions, where is the accountability when the proof is erased? And, whose responsibility is it to educate students about the risks of using such applications?

Stacy Jagodowski

Stacy Jagodowski

Director of Communications at Cheshire Academy

Stacy has worked in education for more than 10 years, including positions in communications and admission at both boarding and day schools in New England, Virginia and California. She currently serves as Director of Communications at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. Outside of work, she is an aspiring photographer.