Snapchat Reminder: The Internet has no Delete key

snapchat app iconI’ve given talks at local schools about online privacy and about issues related to oversharing with teens, and one thing that I hear back with some regularity is “no, things really do delete” after I remind them that nothing is ever really deleted on the Internet. Given some of the things that kids today are posting (not to mention adults!) it’s no surprise that these highly digital teens are really hoping that what the developers are telling them is the truth.

Nowhere is that more of a problem than with the program Snapchat. It’s the ultimate in transient data: you post images to share with your friends and after ten seconds, just like the cheesy intro to Mission: Impossible, the images self-destruct and vanish. No evidence, no trace, no regrets.


Wrong. In a completely unsurprising turn of events, a forensics company out of Orem, Utah has published an exploit that demonstrates how smartphones that are running Snapchat actually save all the images in a folder called RECEIVED_IMAGES_SNAPS, using an Android / iPhone trick to “hide” the image.

It’s a good reminder to all of us that the “delete” feature on the Internet is really more akin to a “hide” feature and that every image you post, every status update you submit, every geo-checkin you do should be considered as part of your permanent digital record.

It’s the latest generation of an adage that the online world has talked about for many years: Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t want published in the New York Times. Now we just get to expand that to include photos shared, comments left, status updates and every other element that combine to create the cyber-potpourri that we call The Internet.

In the words of Sergeant Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

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