Quick-deleting app images may not be gone forever - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Quick-deleting app images may not be gone forever

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

It's a pretty simple concept: Send a photo, a video or something you want to keep private and to disappear seconds later.

It's a new app called SnapChat, designed for people 13 years and older.  The self-destructive nature of the app is the reason so many like using it and why others question its purpose.

You take a photo or video and send it to a friend who also uses the app.  Then you set the length of time that person can look at your photo. 

You have a maximum of 10 seconds. After that time is up, the photo is gone.

Or so you hope.

"Even though they say these images are erased, I wouldn't be surprised if somehow, someway, somebody could have some technology to find it again later," said University of South Carolina student Hunter Scofield. "I don't trust it. I don't trust technology."

But some teens love it.

"It's really, really fun," said a California teen in an interview. "I just love the fact that you really don't have to care that much about what you are sending."

SnapChat came on the scene in September of 2011 with the sole purpose of letting people live in the moment and never get that moment back.

"There is a saying that things are never really deleted from the Internet," said 52 Apps co-founder Christopher Thibault. "And there is some truth to that."

Thibault, co-founder of the Columbia company 52 Apps, says there's a basic process whenever you send a photo whether it's through text message or SnapChat.

"The photo is transmitted from a phone to a server and then back down to a phone," said Thibault.

He says that path of transit increases the likelihood that your photo doesn't necessarily always disappear.

"For me to send the image to you it has to spend some time on a server in the middle," he said. "And whether those images are getting deleted properly, properly overwritten, can be of some concern."

In SnapChat's privacy policy it says: "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…Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.

 "You just have to know in the back of your mind that whatever images you're sending could pop up somewhere in the future," said Thibault.

And for that reason, some are concerned this self-destructing app will breed a barrage of sexually explicit photos.

Although Thibault didn't say he thought SnapChat would make sexting easier, he said, "I think it makes it less risky."

"You can't rule it out," said USC student Chris Stanley. "Kids will be kids. They'll find way to do stuff like that."

"It's definitely a new sexting app," said Schofield, who says the temptation is too great, especially for teens.

"I just have no need for that," he said. "If I'm going to filter it enough to know that I want you to see it for an extended period of time."

SnapChat co-founder Evan Spiegel told NBC the purpose was not for sexting.

He helped create the app to share images with select people and then have those images disappear.

"We really built the product for ourselves and for our friends," said Spiegel.

"They were like, 'Gosh I'm applying to this job and I have these really awkward photos of myself I just wish would disappear,'" he said. "And we thought, 'Wow. I think that we could build something that does that.'"

But Spiegel admitted, the app may not always be as it seems.

"I think a really important thing to remember is that any image you send can be saved forever," he said. "Whether it be by someone taking a photo with another camera or someone taking a screen shot. So it's not somewhere to send photos that you want to be secure."

It is possible for someone to take a screen shot of your photo but SnapChat says they'll contact you if that happens. There have not been any major complaints of misuse yet.

But when those 10 seconds are up, you need to remember your data could still be out there.

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