snapchat-app-620x347One of the problems with the human condition is that we all make mistakes. We do things that, in hindsight, we shouldn’t have. The naivety of youth means that more such errors are made at a young age. 

One of the problems with the digital age is that humans, many of them young like that cringeworthy youth of my past, now use technology which captures those mistakes in permanent form.

One of the first lessons to be learned about online communication is that nothing is truly ephemeral or anonymous. Even those Apps which claim to be exactly that.

SnapChat is billed as ephemeral photo sharing. Send a photo and it self destructs in no more than 10 seconds. Risk free then? Well, not quite.

All smartphones offer a screenshot facility. On SnapChat the user gets a message when a screenshot has been taken (which is good to know) but usually far too late.

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Rogue developers have even developed additional Apps, such as SnapHack and SnapBox, which allows users to surreptitiously save photos sent to them via SnapChat without the sender being warned. Rather dubiously the developer of SnackHack Darren Jones claimed that he developed the App in order to raise awareness “For months people have been sending private images without knowing it has been possible to do this kind of thing with them with other apps”.

Whether users employ a simple screenshot or surreptitious App, indiscreet SnapChat photographs are finding their way online. Regularly.

As we’ve said before posting intimate private photographs online without consent is unlawful – and the consequences profound. It’s an obvious and very serious breach of privacy. Just because an individual sends an intimate photograph to you – it does not mean that he or she consents to you publishing it to the world. Sadly, this legal basic has not stopped a surge in public consumption of SnapChat senders’ misery.

A search for “SnapChat” on Twitter offers a misfits gallery of unpleasant accounts dedicated to sharing indiscreet SnapChats.

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And Google’s suggested search terms betray the odd fascination with intimate online mistakes, with the first two suggestions related to “SnapChat” listed as “leaked” and “sexting”.

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SnapChat is not the only apparently discreet App making waves on the market though. The Secret App has been a commercial success in the United States allowing users to anonymously post confessionals with the apparent strength of mind that no one will ever know whose confession it is – and the App is nowcoming to the UK.

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The problem is – you are never 100% anonymous online. Secret users provide an email address, often a mobile phone number and IP address and other location info when they sign up. It’s fair to say that the developers of Secret have a good idea who you are. There are some significant Data Protection responsibilities for the company to weigh up.

The App isn’t just used for cathartic proclamations of infidelity, vandalism and perversions though – it has also been used to leak allegations about corporations – most notoriously Google + and Nike – and no doubt about private individuals.

The Secret motto is “Share with your friends, secretly. Speak freely”.

But before making wild claims about your employer, friends or enemies on the Secret App take a deep breath and think for a minute.

Posting content with the belief that you are 100% anonymous is dangerous. The truth is that no one is 100% anonymous on the internet. For users who choose to abuse anonymity, Apps like Secret are as likely to be hit with a disclosure order from a court (like a UK Norwich Pharmacal Order) as any website. If you choose to harass, abuse or libel someone secretly don’t be surprised if your veil of secrecy is lifted.

This post originally appeared on the Himsworth Legal Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks