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Snapchat Privacy Fail; Lessons in Business Morality


Snapchat Privacy Fail, Lessons in Business Morality

Digital Strategy

Privacy and disclosure are just as important as your product; a lesson learned by Snapchat but valuable to us all. Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Snapchat with deceiving customers about the fundamental nature of the product’s operation. Then, Snapchat made an agreement with the FTC. You can read more about the entire situation in this Daily Herald article, but the gist is this: Snapchat “snap chats” didn’t actually disappear like they were supposed to, and the company appropriated personal information without consent.

Accessing personal customer information and storing information supposedly destroyed are obvious privacy concerns. The fact that the FTC had to come calling before it was made public that this was the way the product was designed to operate, however unintentional, is where the importance of disclosure comes in. Then there’s the product (even if it’s not an app). Inc. Magazine’s Howard A. Tullman got a little more granular and laid out some of the entrepreneurial issues in his post What You Can Learn From Snapchat. For our purposes, the most important parts are the following:

Privacy (and honesty) issues aside, there is an even larger lesson for smart entrepreneurs who are trying to create real businesses and real value for themselves, their users, and their investors: It’s just too easy today to build something that looks good and seems to solve a problem or create a solution, but only on the surface. If you’re in such a big hurry to get something out there, and you don’t take the time and invest the hard work and resources to build the infrastructure necessary to really deliver on your promises, then ultimately you haven’t built anything real or lasting… And you’ll find out that you built a toy, not a technology, and wasted a lot of time in the process.

Infrastructure, scalability, design, operations and engineering are all important pieces of any final product. They’re inextricable from the process. But they’re not the only thing you need to consider. Ultimately, the Snapchat user base is probably not going to care about this revelation, but they should. They should care that it took a federal commission stepping in to learn all of this. They should care that Snapchat having access to their personally identifiable information means the “bad guys” could have access to it as well, either through the device itself, or through the Snapchat servers.

Do you want to be responsible for dealing with federal commissions, law suits, and bad press because of a privacy or disclosure issue? Of course not. Had Snapchat openly admitted their fault prior to FTC charges, or even delayed the app launch until the product was fully viable, they wouldn’t be in the hot water they’re in now. As it stands, the disingenuous corporate operations and FTC headlines are all anyone is going to be hearing about for a while. What can you do to avoid this? Be open with your customers. Make sure your privacy policies are up to date. Secure your data and, more importantly, your customer’s data. It’s just good business.