“Opening a Snapchat feels like unwrapping a present. You never know what you are going to get,” said Sally Ike, High School Senior, in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article. “I was thinking about it today, how next year when I go away to college it will be nice. You actually get to see the friend’s face for a quick 10 seconds. It’s more personal than a text.”

Snapchat is a mobile app designed to share a photo with a friend, however what makes this different than other photo sharing apps is the image is only available for a limited time. The sender decides how long the image is available anywhere from 1-10 seconds. Therefore, the sender doesn’t have to worry about how they look in the picture. This provides many opportunities for sending more creative pictures of themselves perhaps making a silly face, striking a pose or since you can doodle on Snapchat pictures, a photo with wings and a halo or anything else you can imagine. You can also send videos. The product description on the Snapchat website states, “Snapchat is a new way to share moments with friends… The image might be a little grainy, and you many not look your best, but that’s the point. It’s about the moment, a connection between friends, and not just a pretty picture.”

Another cool feature is that the sender is notified If someone tries to take a screenshot of your image. Cheating in this way is severely frowned upon.

Snapchat launched in September 2011, and as of 28 November 2012, users have shared over one billion photos on the Snapchat iOS app, with 20 million photos being shared per day. In the U.S., Snapchat was the second-most popular free photo and video app for the iPhone in early February, just behind YouTube and ahead of Instagram. It was the 19th-most popular free app overall, according to App Annie, an analytics company. Snapchat’s website claims that more than 50 million snaps are sent every day.

It made rivals anxious enough to build similar products. In December Facebook unveiled a Snapchat-like app called Poke that allows users to send self-destructing media.

The creators of Snapchat are, you guessed it, college kids from Stanford. They were hearing stories from their friends about photos others had tagged them in that they didn’t approve maybe because they were unflattering or perhaps they displayed a different view of themselves.

Snapchat’s Philosophy from their website states, “We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends… Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.”

This philosophy brings up the question, can our digital footprints really be erased? There are risks of a false sense of security and encouragement of risky behavior. According to a recent Mashable article, “Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has been quoted as saying that the app was never intended for complete privacy — something that’s borne out by a look at the company’s Terms of Service: ‘Although 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.’ Again, so much for self-delete.”

Now that the general public has access to storage space in the cloud the amount of digital data has increased. Tasked with archiving more than 170 billion tweets, the Library of Congress is also feeling the effects of the overwhelming amount of data. In addition, today, marketers buy their consumer data and user behavior information from free social media networks.

According to the Bloomberg article, Reputation.com, a California-based company that sells online reputation and privacy services, has experienced customer growth of 1,000 percent in the past two years. CEO, Michael Fertik says, “Reputation.com is collecting data and then enabling our customers to expose the data, electively to third parties in an open and transparent transaction of which they are completely aware as opposed to being digitally exploited every day without your knowledge or permission by people you can’t identify for purposes you’ll never know. It’s like digital serfdom vs. digital liberty.”

57 percent of all app users “have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons.” (Pew Research Center survey)

88 percent of participants from ages 18-24 say there should be a law requiring websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual upon request. 94 percent from ages 45 to 54 also supported the idea. (2010 survey, University of California at Berkeley)

The article concludes, the way the Internet is structured today, almost everything people share online will live for eternity in the cloud. In “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age,” Viktor Mayer- Schönberger, a lawyer and a professor at the university of Oxford argues that this inevitably creates problems for individuals and societies that need the ability to forget in order to move forward. A perfect memory, he writes, can be paralyzing, trapping people in the past and discouraging them from trying new challenges.

I want to hear from you – do you use Snapchat or a similar app? Do you have privacy concerns or do you believe that it is the responsibility of users to be careful with what they share?

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