What’s so special (and so dangerous) about Snapchat

snapchats photoIf you haven’t heard about Snapchat, you will.

The photo-sharing app is enjoying an explosive rise in popularity, especially among the coveted under-25 demographic, and this week the trendy phone program is reportedly getting a big backing boost — $8 million — from Benchmark, the same financier behind Instagram’s rise.

For the uninitiated, Snapchat is an app you can use to send photos with built-in self-destruct timers. Instead of sending someone a photo they can go back and look at whenever they want, Snapchat allows users to decide how long the recipient can view the picture. It’s enjoying a surge in popularity because it trades in a feeling of inconsequentiality, in the idea that whatever is shared is done so for a fleeting moment. And at a time when the Petraeus scandal made it clear how technology can foil even the most astute and discreet minds, it’s no surprise the latest app hit is designed to avoid electronic trails.

As you can imagine, a service for sending photos that disappear lends itself to some naughty undertakings. Although the CEO says he did not expect people to use Snapchat to send sexual text messages (sexts, if you must), they are. Oh, not every message is an oiled-up or taut body part—since over 1,000 images are swapped a second, that would be a monumental number of salacious encounters. Some people are using it to send goofy, lighthearted messages and nothing more.

But others are using it for less wholesome purposes, sending nude and suggestive photos for their sexual partner or partners … or unsuspecting friends, who knows? Although the images vanish within a predetermined number of seconds, well-prepared deviants can easily snag a screenshot in that amount of time. And while there is an alert that lets users know if their image is subject to a screen grab, it can’t get the surreptitiously captured picture back. This means people who send explicit photos will quickly discover if the recipient has ignoble intentions, but by then it will be too late. If someone is willing to take a screen grab of the dirty image you just sent them, odds are you aren’t getting it back – or deleted. Oh and, there are always tips and tricks floating around instructing users how to bypass the screenshot alert, so that the sender would be none the wiser to your less than ethical ways. 

snapshots screenshotSo soon after the app’s release, there’s already a creepy example of how simple it is to capture screenshots, and how easy it is to broadcast these images to a wide audience: Enter the very NSFW Snapchat Sluts, the gross brainchild of a party photographer. Snapchat Sluts is a website highlighting (you guessed it) photos of women who have chosen to participate. The site ranges from perfectly tame photos to very, very illicit ones. While the site only shows women who have willingly sent in their pictures, the ease with which the images were collected makes it clear that capturing a lasting record of these vanishing pictures is breathtakingly simple (it’s also worth asking if anyone is making sure everyone showing up on the site signed off on it publishing their Snapchat photo). And since young people are the driving force behind Snapchat, this is a problem: People under 18 may be swapping images that are legally classified as child pornography, and they may be doing it with less trepidation than they would if they were using SMS, since they assume the person they’re sending the photo to won’t screenshot their body.

But even if the majority of the sexual back-and-forth on Snapchat results in nothing more than stirred teenage feelings, there’s always the young man or woman who decides to pull the jerk move and capture the image to show their friends. And that’s the stuff teenage crises are made of.

In addition to being the greatest tool for sexting since the front-facing camera, people are reporting its role in recent bullying incidents. For instance, in Iowa, students came under fire for using the app to take a picture of an unsuspecting high school student in the locker room that was then sent to a male student – obviously, without the victim’s consent. There’s also a little privacy oversight in which everyone is able to publicly see who your top Snapchat messaging buddies are. Which isn’t too terrible … unless it’s someone you shouldn’t be Snapchatting with. Someone who, say your significant other, wouldn’t love to know you’re frequently Snapchatting. 

Snapchat hasn’t been around very long, and people may tire of it in the same way fads like Draw Something flame up and die down. But it has potential for staying power, like Instagram or Twitter. If Snapchat’s going to stick around, people need to give themselves a reality check and admit that what happens on Snapchat doesn’t always stay on Snapchat. And parents and teachers need to educate themselves about technology their students and children are using, so they can try to guide young people to use it for the right reasons. Self-destruct images certainly serve a valuable purpose, but you have to account for the lowest common denominator – something Snapchat has been bringing out in plenty of users. 

Gaming

I'm canceling my backlog for Apex Legends. Be back never

Live service games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are eating up everyone's time, leaving other games out in the cold. While my backlog continues to grow, it seems the gaming industry is struggling to keep up as well.
Movies & TV

J.J. Abrams wraps production on Star Wars: Episode IX with a heartfelt message

Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams has wrapped production on Star Wars: Episode IX, which he directed and co-wrote. Here's everything we know about the movie before it premieres in December 2019.
Mobile

Samsung teases it will reveal its foldable phone during the Galaxy S10 event

Samsung has been showcasing bendable display tech for a few years and now a folding smartphone might finally arrive. The Galaxy X, or perhaps the Galaxy Fold, may be the company's first example. Here's everything we know about it.
Home Theater

Apple's new AirPods could arrive within months, pack health sensor tech

Apple may release new AirPods in the first half of 2019. A wireless charging case, health sensors, water resistance, and better Siri integration are some of the improvements rumored to be part of the new package.
Mobile

Happy Valentine’s Day! Coffee Meets Bagel dating app data may have been breached

Are you planning on using Coffee Meets Bagel to find love on Valentine's Day? If you've been using the app for a while, you'll probably want to change your password -- the company said a data breach may have taken place before May 2018.
Mobile

Worried about extra data charges? Here's how to check your usage on an iPhone

It's common to get a little nervous about nearing data limits. Keep your peace of mind by checking how much data your iPhone is using. Our guide on how to check data usage on an iPhone helps you stay in control.
Mobile

Exclusive: Take a look at what a next-generation 5G phone will look like

With 5G phones debuting at MWC in mere days, there is discussion about whether they will be clunky bricks that die after a few hours? A reference design from Qualcomm offerrs a glimpse of the future: This is what 5G phones will look like.
Mobile

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.
Mobile

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.
Mobile

Xiaomi Mi 9 will be one of the first phones with monster Snapdragon 855 chip

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.
Wearables

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.
Mobile

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.
Mobile

Bag yourself a bargain with the best budget tablets under $200

The battle for your budget tablet affections is really ramping up. Which tablet, costing less than $200, should be commanding your attention? We take a look at some different options for the budget-conscious.
Computing

What is Wi-Fi 6? Here's a look at the next evolution of the wireless standard

We're exploring the new naming convention for wireless standards, how it affects the devices you buy, and what the upcoming Wi-Fi generation is changing for the better.