A website that showcases silly, sexual, and otherwise scandalous Snapchats has gone viral – it’s called Snapchat Leaked, and it basically violently murders any notion that Snapchats are more private or harder to spread around than other digital photos. So who’s behind this illicit, privacy-problem-ridden site?
The original site, www.snapchatleaked.com, is currently blocked by a survey, and we can’t find the original creators. We did talk to British Web designer Jack Landels, who is responsible for the some of the digital chaos since he started a new website called Snapchats Leaked, as well as a Facebook page with over 10,000 followers. We also talked to another British man named Joshua (no last name) who mans what he calls the official Snapchatleaked Twitter account — though that’s separate from another “official” Twitter account called @snapchatleakoff. He’s not affiliated with Landels, and he doesn’t know who’s manning the original page anymore. “It has been taken over,” he said, and noted that different people are running different accounts.
So basically you have multiple, mostly British people creating a whole bunch of platforms for people to send salacious pictures. The Snapchat Leaked scandal is a many-headed beast.
We asked Landels why he started his Snapchats Leaked operation. Landels explains that the whole enterprise was very casually launched. “Was just an idea I thought about the other day, so I put it into practice and bam, it went viral. It’s a bit of luck and skill as I do a lot of Internet marketing, I also do Web design so the site was up within a few hours.”
We asked Landels if friends volunteered to send in pictures at first, and how many photos he was currently processing. He says that it was just friends to begin with, “But then it went viral within a couple hours just off a few images … now I get a lot of images through the website but it takes time to process them. I’ve just altered the site so now any image can be uploaded automatically without us having to process them. However we still monitor as many as we can. For Facebook and Twitter we just pick them at random as we’re getting hundreds sent in it’s to hard to keep track.”
So basically, we’re looking at the Hunter Moores of Snapchat.
And by monitor, Landels means monitor to make sure nothing illegal goes up. And he has to be diligent – Snapchats Leaked primarily trades in nude pictures (which you’ll immediately notice if you’re brave enough to visit the page). Right now he does it manually. How will Snapchat Leaked prevent photos of underage people from going online once they switch to automatic posting, since so many teenagers use Snapchat? “We have an algorithm in place that can detect nude images very accurately, these are automatically flagged and need to be processed manually … it’s similar to what YouTube and Google use actually. At the moment they’re mainly just silly images which is great, it’s a test to see how it goes, if it fails then we’ll simply go back to manually processing the images. We take this very seriously.”
Landels’ definition of “silly” pictures includes lots of breasts, many posteriors, and some genitalia – and I sincerely doubt the people who originally sent these Snaps would find them very silly – but Landel’s says he’s amenable to taking them down if people asked. “We’ve only had two to three complaints and we have took them down as requested. I agree some things are for private viewing but majority is just ‘fun.’ We have no issues removing images if people request it.”
Joshua also answered my questions about how the Twitter account handles potential underage pictures. “We have taken precautions against individuals sending in to us pictures of users under 18. We ensure a bit of research has been conducted before releasing pictures of individuals to ensure the safety and privacy are protected.”
And he wanted to make it clear that the purpose isn’t revenge. “If we feel that someone is being targeted and someone sends in a picture to be malicious we will not tolerate it and will totally discard the entry. We do not tolerate bullying, and there are implications in place such as censoring individuals in the pictures at their request. If there is someone who is unhappy with a picture we have uploaded regardless if it’s the owner of the picture or not, we will take action and remove the picture if necessary.”
Landels is unapologetic about the site’s content, and Joshua was equally blunt about his contribution to the land of leaked Snapchats. “To all the critics stating that what we are doing is exploitative, they could not be more wrong – The Internet is full of uncopyrighted pictures, correct?,” Joshua says. “All we are doing is sharing pictures that have been sent in to us, and we ensure the individual in the Snapchat photo is contacted, so they can decide whether they would like us to keep it up or not, it’s fairly simple! If you are worried about being exposed, don’t use the Snapchat application, it’s pretty simple.”
So basically, we’re looking at the Hunter Moore(s) of Snapchat.
“I got an email from a guy called Daniel Smith who apparently is [a] Snapchat developer saying that it was a great idea but it’s in a grey area and to be careful.”
Since the Snapchat Leaked phenomenon is just a few days old, it hasn’t established a specific code. “We have no set rules and regulations, it’s easy to see what’s suitable and what isn’t depending on what content is asked to be uploaded. Some stuff is obviously not acceptable and we ignore them,” Landels explains. From what I can tell from *shudder* looking at the various sites, nude breasts are definitely OK, but that’s about as hardcore as it gets – so, oddly, if you sent extremely explicit photos, you’re probably safe from these sites – it’s the softcore sexy shots that wind up on the site.
So has Snapchat reached out, or tried to shut Snapchats Leaked down? Landels’ answer is perhaps more shocking than the site itself. “I got an email from a guy called Daniel Smith who apparently is [a] Snapchat developer saying that it was a great idea but it’s in a grey area and to be careful.” We asked Snapchat for a comment, but did not receive a response. For the record, Daniel Smith is a core team member and founder at Snapchat, though, and the idea that he would called Snapchat Leaked a “great idea” certainly doesn’t help the mounting privacy and security criticisms the app is facing. Considering Landels made it seem like he was affiliated with the original Snapchat Leaked site but is not involved, take his statement that Smith contacted him with two dozen gigantic grains of salt.
In addition to the alleged support, Landels doesn’t think there’s anything the company could do if it wanted to. “Unfortunately Snapchat can’t do anything about it as they do technically delete the images, but nothing is ever deleted forever.”
Most of the Snapchat Leaked pages are decidedly NSFW, and I am decidedly turned off by the idea that people are turning in photos their friends or lovers thought were private, temporary images and sharing them with the world on this site. So I couldn’t continue a conversation with Landels without telling him I thought his website was definitely wading into ethically icky territory. But Landels is resolute that his site is not meant to cause offense. “It’s early days, if enough hate occurs we’ll scrap the nude side,” he says. Landels doesn’t think his viral creation is especially invasive. After I recounted my misgivings about the site, he notes, “If you’re concerned with privacy you should really look into how Facebook handles the data, especially Google. They hold stuff that is very personal!”
The people running the various Snapchat Leaked sites might not have the data stockpiles of Facebook, but they currently showcase personal images, which is why it is creating a problem for Snapchat. It undermines Snapchat’s modus operandi, and it underlines the fact that many Snapchat users are more than willing to capture and share the supposedly private image conversations they have. Whether Snapchat reacts at all remains to be seen, but given the entire basis of the product, you’d imagine a response is forthcoming.
The app has dealt with a number of problems since its inception, many related to sexual images. And although the Snapchat Leaked scandal is the most serious indication that it is both very easy to save Snapchat pictures and frighteningly simple to submit them to websites, it’s not so clear that this will make a huge difference to its user base. After all, plenty of people were sending naked pictures to each other before Snapchat came around, and while Snapchat’s illusion of impermanence undoubtedly attracted some users to the service, deep down, I think most of us knew that there was probably a way to get hold of the images. Our digital footprints are usually deeper than we like to imagine. And sometimes they include pictures of our boobs.