Nothing on the Internet is free.
Yes, Facebook charges you $US0 to use its apps and services. Same goes for Google stuff like Gmail and Maps.
But you’re still paying a price. You’re still giving up a tiny bit of yourself to these companies in exchange for some useful or entertaining services. To use Facebook, you must agree to let it know how old you are, your gender, and the movies, books, and TV shows you list as “likes” on your profile. Facebook uses that data to show you ads it thinks are relevant to you. Same goes for Google services. And Tumblr. And Yahoo. And Instagram. And so on.
We give so much of our personal lives to these companies that it’s reasonable to expect that the information remains private. It’s a perfectly fair exchange.
This week, Snapchat failed its users when 4.6 million private phone numbers and usernames leaked publicly online. Mine was one of them. A security research firm tried to warn Snapchat days ahead of time that there was a hole in the app that could allow such a hack, but Snapchat did nothing.
Then hackers leaked the numbers.
Then Snapchat released a statement. But that statement didn’t contain an apology. It didn’t even say something along the lines of “we take user privacy very seriously and want to prevent this from happening again.” Instead, Snapchat’s statement only explained how the hack took place. The company also updated the Snapchat app to include an option that allows users to switch off the “Find Friends” feature that hackers used to leak all those personal phone numbers.
The update isn’t a true fix though. It only limits the rate people can ping Snapchat’s servers to use Find Friends. It doesn’t actually plug the hole.
I’ve reached out to Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel and the company’s PR boss Mary Ritti several times this week asking if they planned to apologise for the leak and if there was a fix in the works. They haven’t responded.
Yes, Snapchat doesn’t cost you any money to use, but you’re still paying the company something — your personal information. In this case, it’s your phone number.
By giving Snapchat your phone number, you make it easier to find new friends to share photos and videos with plus invite people in your address book to join who aren’t using Snapchat yet. It’s one of the key ways Snapchat gets new users — current Snapchatters invite their friends using the Find Friends feature. That kind of rapid growth of its network is incredibly valuable to Snapchat and it’s part of the reason why it’s worth billions of dollars. ($3 billion, in fact, if you believe the reports and rumours.)
And it’s also why those 4.6 million Snapchat users deserve an apology. It’s why the tens of millions more Snapchat users who weren’t affected by the leak deserve to know their personal data is safe in Snapchat’s hands. We’re paying Snapchat something that could potentially be worth more than a few bucks a month to use the service. We’re paying with our privacy.
As it stands now, Snapchat isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. And that’s more than enough justification stop stop using the app until we know for sure the company takes privacy seriously.