A first for iOS devices: Snapchat users beware

Potential privacy risk in Snapchat on iOS 11 can allow recording of Snapchat without notification

Snapchat messages screen. Photo: Xavier Harding/Mic

Apple’s new mobile operating system update, iOS 11, has introduced an iPhone feature that has unsettling ramifications for users of the popular app, Snapchat.

Snapchat allows users to send “snaps” — short videos or photos— to other app users, which are only available to be viewed for a set amount of seconds determined by the sender and can only be replayed a limited number of times before being deleted. If a user were to “screenshot” an image or video, the app typically notifies the sending user (or group if a group-chat) that such an action — which is considered poor etiquette within the app’s user base — has taken place. This transient nature has been key to the app’s success with its key demographic, young adults aged 18 to 24, since its founding in 2011 by three Sanford University undergraduates.

Previously, the only way on iOS¹ to capture a snap was through screenshotting the message/image. Users of the app have discovered that the newly introduced screen-recording feature can potentially allow users to record Snapchat content without notifying the user that sent it. The inability of users to record “Snaps” without a notification being sent to the other party has been a feature which many of its 150+ million users have taken for granted.

Screen recording prompt on iOS 11. Photo: Stacy Liberatore/Daily Mail
“Tests conducted by the Telegraph showed that users were not getting alerts when snaps were captured using screen record until they installed the 10.17.5 update.
Even with the latest update, our tests found that screen recording didn’t always trigger a screenshot notification, and when it did these sometimes came through after a delay.” — Mike Wright, The Telegraph

The developers of Snapchat have attempted to address this issue by releasing an update. However, the Telegraph has tested the update and discovered that if a user who screen-recorded snaps did not have the latest update installed, others with the update were not notified. Further testing by the Telegraph has also discovered the new notification system for video-recordings to be rather slow, taking over a day after the recording took place in some cases for the notifications to be sent.

To the credit of the developers, they have always included a disclaimer on the app’s support website stating that recording of Snaps is possible, although video recording is not that common in comparison to screen-grabbing an image.

“Snapchatters who see your messages can always potentially save them, whether by taking a screenshot or by using some other image-capture technology (whether that be a separate piece of software, or even simply taking a photo of their screen with a second camera).” — Snapchat app support page

While this recent development may be alarming to users of the app, it also serves as a reminder to all users of the internet that everything online, once posted to the internet, is there for good and cannot be entirely removed with any degree of certainty.

¹: This is nothing new for (nor does it affect) Android platforms as ways to record a device’s screen have existed on those platforms for a long time, this is a first for iOS devices.