Parents, have you heard of Snapchat? It was the first messaging applications, referred to as ephemeral technology, that allows one to send an image or video to one person or a group of people. This doesn't sound either new or novel. Right? Well, the spin with these apps that by definition, lasting a very short time, the sender sets the period the image or video is available to view, from one up to ten seconds.
Now you see where I'm going. The appeal is that the image or video in essence expires or disappears within seconds. But where do they go? More on that in a moment. Here's a bit of history and outline of the meteoric adoption and use of this application.
Snapchat was created by four Stanford students and was launched in September 2011. TechCrunch stated that last May 2012, only 25 images were being sent per second. However, by the end of November 2012, users had shared over one billion photos, with 20 million photos being shared per day. Yup, that's billion with a “b”.
So, how does it work? You take a picture or create a video on a mobile device, select one or more people from your contact list, determine the length of time it will be visible, and hit send. The recipient receives a message that they have been sent a "snap". In an attempt to provide some sort of protection from copying the image, the sender receives notification that a screenshot was taken. That's great, but nothing stops someone from using another device or camera to capture the image. Also, in January, a workaround was disclosed that would allow the image to be saved without being detected by Snapchat.
"When you send or receive messages using the Snapchat services, we temporarily process and store your images and videos in order to provide our services. Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is received and opened by the recipient (and after a certain period of time if they don't open the message), we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case."
Doesn't instill much confidence, does it?
Snapchat is available for Apple iOS and Android devices, and given that it's been downloaded millions of times, it's not that surprising that it currently sits at #16 on iTunes Top Free Apps Chart and #39 on Google play. The most current data available from Onavo Insights, a company that uses data to reflect true app market share, confirms that Snapchat is ranked #19 on the Onavo AppRank Top iPhone Apps at 11.6%. To put this into perspective, ubiquitous Facebook, ranked #1, has a market share of 72.5%. Another telling statistic comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal's "Snapchat, an App Teens Can’t Put Down"; a recent study offered that approximately 13% of 13 to 18 year-olds use the app often.
Speaking of Facebook, they too have entered this space with a revamped version of Poke. However, although functionally similar, Poke is not gaining nearly as much traction as Snapchat, it's not even in the Top 100 free apps on iTunes. This is likely due to Poke being tethered, unlike Snapchat - a standalone application, to one’s Facebook profile.
This is from the Apple AppStore Snapchat download page; make your own conclusion as to the principal use for Snapchat.
Rated 12+ for the following:
Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content or Nudity
Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
Should this app be targeted at 12 year-old children? Giving young people a tool that enables them to share inappropriate content under a belief that the behavior could be safe, or at the very least, temporary, is irresponsible. At the end of the day, parents need to understand what it is their kids are up to, but also, children need to appreciate that whatever they send via the Internet is not confidential nor private and can potentially be available online forever.