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Sext appeal: Is Snapchat worth worrying about?

  • 50 million images shared each day on hugely popular app
  • All images 'self destruct' within 10 seconds of being viewed
  • App warns 'we are not able to guarantee' they'll be deleted
Sext appeal: Is Snapchat worth worrying about?

"This text message will self-destruct in 10 seconds."

Is that a promise? A challenge to make it fantastically memorable? A consequence-free invitation to send a naked picture?

Sort of. Yup. And, um, occasionally.

See, there's a lot of wiggle room going on with how Snapchat and its millions of downloaders are using the photo sharing app, currently the sixth-most popular in the iTunes Store.

For the uninitiated*, Snapchat lets users send photos and videos which can only be viewed for between one to 10 seconds by the recipient before they're erased forever. The picture must be sent immediately after it's snapped.

* Or those whose daily routine does not include backpacks, classrooms and assigned reading.

If someone tries to get all sneaky and take a screengrab of the image, the sender receives a notification --  deterrent which hasn't exactly stopped it from happening anyway or children from uploading how-to videos to YouTube.

The allure of sending a picture or video which will leave no digital trail after it's viewed has struck a chord with Smartphone Nation, which had previously been at least somewhat restrained by the accepted knowledge that the Internet is forever.

But this? Well now, this can get fun, right? And it pretty much has. Snapchat reports its users are sharing more than 50 million photos each day and a pretty large majority of them are 15-year-olds making ridiculous faces and capturing other potentially humiliating poses, moments -- or the occasional exposed body part -- because, hey, this thing is gone (poof!) forever anyways 10 seconds after it's viewed!

Except that (and kids, parents -- this is the part you should pay attention to) Snapchat's own privacy policy isn't making any promises about what happens to your photos. Here's what it says:

"We attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.

Got that? So as fun, casual and goofy as Snapchat pics are, one thing they may not be is temporary.

The app also includes a "Save" feature if the sender wants to save their photo or video for himself, in much the same way you'd do with any other image captured on a smartphone or tablet.

However, the idea that this app -- which has become so ubiquitous and popular that it's rumored to have just raised $8 million from the same group which backed Instagram -- seems to invite sexting was shot down by its founder just about as swiftly as it has frayed the nerves of its users' parents.

"I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be," co-founder and 2012 Stanford grad Evan Spielgel told TechCrunch earlier this year. "I just don't know people who do that."

The iTunes Store rates the app as for users 12 years old and up due to its "Mild Sexual Content or Nudity" among other factors. A Twitter search for "snapchat sext" also brings up a long list of playful pleas for people to send out nude photos.

And the recent upgrade to allow video was met with the obvious reactions:

Still, Spiegel thinks the real attraction of his app is its impermanence, which he said "makes communication a lot more human and natural."

And the sexting stuff? "It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex."

This generously assumes an either/or option exists for every high schooler with a smartphone.

One thing every high schooler with a smartphone does have, however, is Facebook. And that seems to be the greater problem right now for the small Stanford crew that created Snapchat, and whose app may have just become a bit too successful.

Now firmly on Facebook's radar, the social media giant is developing a Snapchat competitor, which is already in testing and expected to launch in a few weeks.

Do you or people you know use Snapchat? What do you think: harmless fun or something worth worrying about? Tell us in the comments.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN


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