Snapchat hack proves negligence

By Editorial Board

More than 200,000 Snapchat photos and videos—an untold number sexually explicit—were leaked Oct. 13 after the third-party app, Snap Save, which allows users to save Snapchat content, was hacked Oct. 10.

Snapchat, a popular smartphone app that allows users to view an image for 10 seconds or less before it self-deletes, is one of several companies that have recently experienced such a security breach. On Aug. 31, a number of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, had personal images leaked to the public after hackers gained access to Apple’s iCloud. Snapchat and Apple denied responsibility for the breaches, citing hackers’ skills.

With growing reliance on smartphones, it is easy to have blind faith in devices. However, makers of apps are not doing enough to protect users. Until developers take security seriously, such programs should be used with caution.

When Snapchat first announced the problem, there was a concern that the leak would contain nude images of minors. The photos and videos leaked since have contained a few of these images but do not show faces. Knowing that minors have access to this technology bestows a special duty on providers to implement more sophisticated protection measures.

Why did Snapchat allow Snap Save to expose its users to such great risk and defeat the purpose of the technology, which is to restrict the viewing of images? The company clearly knew it was unsafe, explicitly stating it in their terms and conditions that the use of third-party apps is prohibited. Regardless of whether Snapchat had a legal obligation to intervene, it definitely had an ethical responsibility to prevent the misuse of its technology in order to protect users.

Lawrence spoke about the incident with Vanity Fair after her photos were leaked, calling the release incident a “sex crime,” according to an Oct. 8 Vanity Fair article. As painful as this has been for Lawrence, consider the impact of this on ordinary young adults. Lawrence is a celebrity and has a platform to speak about the incident without much damage to her reputation. She also has money to investigate the matter and prosecute the people to blame. However, average citizens who are victims of breaches do not have as much protection. They can be teased, defamed and experience severe emotional damage as a result of personal information being made public.

Of course, the federal government has laws in place that prosecute computer and internet hacking. Under the law, penalties for computer hacking can be as severe as 20 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine. However, similar to most laws, it offers recourse to a crime already committed.

The abundance of information on iCloud seems grossly unnecessary. Delete means delete, and Apple should reconsider its system considering how easily someone can enter such databases and access of all the information on users’ devices, including iPhones and iPads.

It is easy to blindly trust smartphones and Internet devices that are so much a part of our daily lives. However, responsibly using software is essential as tech wizards gain knowledge about accessing private information. Until providers begin to take more responsibility, the importance of smartly using apps and smartphones remains essential to maintain privacy.