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Snapchat’s updated terms of service and privacy policy creep users out

Snapchat Emoji Camera Updates
Maurizio Pesce/Flickr
Snapchat has spooked some of its users by updating its terms of service and privacy policy. In what’s become sort of a tradition for popular social networks and apps, the company added some new words that might appear to give it free rein to use and abuse all the photos and videos shared via the app. The reality, as usual, is probably less interesting.

The section of Snapchat’s new terms of service that has received the most scrutiny starts by saying users retain “whatever ownership rights” they previously had over content they share via the app. After that, it gets a little interesting:

“But you grant Snapchat a worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, create derivative works from, publicly perform, broadcast, distribute, syndicate, promote, exhibit, and publicly display that content in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). We will use this license for the limited purpose of operating, developing, providing, promoting, and improving the Services; researching and developing new ones; and making content submitted through the Services available to our business partners for syndication, broadcast, distribution, or publication outside the Services.”

That wall of text asserts Snapchat’s right to use photos and videos users upload and share via the app as they see fit, which in this case includes marketing, research and making it available to business partners.

The subsequent paragraph goes a step further by telling users that Snapchat and its business partners reserve the right to use “your name, likeness, and voice in any and all media and distribution channels (now known or later developed) in connection with any Live Story or other crowdsourced content you create, upload, post, send, or appear in.” Users whose name, likeness, or voice is used in a marketing campaign will not receive any compensation, according to the updated terms of service.

While this may sound flagrantly invasive, the likely reality is that this simply covers the company in its monetization and curation of the Live Stories and Discover content features.

In its updated privacy policy, Snapchat steps carefully around the topic of deletion. While the company’s early stance on deletion was “delete is our default,” the current iteration is more nuanced, which makes sense given new functionalities like replays and stories. The updated privacy policy says “in most cases” messages sent via the app will be deleted from the company’s servers and the recipient’s device after they’re viewed or expired.

“We can’t guarantee that messages and corresponding metadata will be deleted within a specific timeframe,” according to the privacy policy. “Keep in mind that we may also retain certain information in backup for a limited period of time or as required by law. This is true even after we’ve deleted messages and corresponding metadata from our servers.”

The company also cites requests from law enforcement as a reason for keeping content on its servers. “Finally, of course, as with any digital information, there may be ways to access messages while still in temporary storage on recipients’ devices or, forensically, even after they are deleted,” according to Snapchat.

All this to say, it’s not a shock that some users are expressing concern about these updates. Still, many others were likely more focused on the slow-motion, fast-forward, and rewind filters included in the app update the new terms of service and privacy policy were tucked into.

In December 2012, Instagram encountered widespread backlash over its updated terms of service and privacy policy. The company eventually backtracked to its previous wording.

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