Does the eraser work for the snap gradient

A smartphone app gives users' photos an expiration date - at least in theory, because manual screenshots are uncontrollable // by Jakob Steinschaden

The Austrian political scientist Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, who teaches in Oxford today, called for a “digital eraser” in his book “Delete” back in 2009 - that is, the possibility of being able to delete data about people and events instead of being available for all forever to ban the servers of Google, Facebook and Co. With Snapchat, two students from Stanford University have built a smartphone app (free for iPhone and Android) that can be used to send photos and videos to other users, who delete themselves after a few seconds - at least in theory.


  • More and more young smartphone users want to send photos that delete themselves and are not saved forever.
  • However, from a technical point of view, Snapchat is not able to keep the promise of deletion.
  • Meanwhile, the creators are looking for ways to ask the users of the free app to checkout.

Tap on the cheeky ghost on a yellow background, choose a recipient, snap a photo and then set how long the contact can look at it on their smartphone, done - a so-called “snap” that destroys itself after a maximum of 10 seconds is sent (The same can be done with short videos). The Snapchat creators like to present themselves as the antithesis of Facebook, which is notorious for not deleting user data from the servers and still having it on the servers three months after the deletion command. "It is deeply important to recognize the harm that permanent media can bring — and that this harm is not evenly distributed”Writes self-proclaimed social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson, who is writing a disset on surveillance and social media, on the Snapchat blog. "Those with non-normative identities or who are otherwise socially vulnerable have much more at stake being more likely to encounter the potential damages past data can cause by way of shaming and stigma. When social media companies make privacy mistakes it is often folks who are not straight, white, and male who pay the biggest price."Jurgenson advocates"temporary social media”, Meaning“ ephemeral social media ”that can forget and miss an expiration date for data.

In the USA, Snapchat is particularly popular with young users who gullible also send delicate pictures (e.g. nude photos) - as so-called “sexting” (made up of “sex” and “texting”). But as with all digital things, the sent “snaps”, as the messages are also called, are of course not permanently deleted. On the one hand, the photos believed to have been deleted can be restored on Android smartphones with the right software, as IT forensic scientist Richard Hickman has found, and on the other hand, the recipients can easily take a screenshot of the message. And then there are also third-party apps (e.g. SnapHack) that promise to save the photos and videos before deleting them. So it happens that in blogs like “Snapchat Sluts” (meanwhile deleted from Tumblr) nude photos of Snapchat users are published, who probably actually thought that the spicy pictures would disappear in digital nirvana. Snapchat will not be able to solve the problem of screenshots without interfering with the fundamental functions of mobile operating systems - an extremely hopeless endeavor. With regard to the delete function, it is also interesting that the makers recently extended the expiry time: With the new “Stories” function, photos are retained for a full 24 hours - apparently ten seconds are not enough.

Despite all the problems: venture capitalists are evaluating the small, slightly more than two-year-old company that currently sends more than 350 million photos a day for $ 860 million. What they like about Snapchat, however, is not that the messages sent are deleted, but the marketing opportunities. Snapchat is still free, but in the future additional functions (e.g. photo filters, virtual stickers) could be offered as in-app purchases, or personalized advertising messages could be mixed with the user content. Snapchat has already started with it: The app already has a direct referral link to the Google Play Store, where you can buy the album “Embrace” by the band Goldroom.


Teaser & Image by Snapchat


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Keywords: chat, loss of control, user behavior, Snapchat