Updated: Wednesday, 07 November 2012 17:06 | By Relaxnews

Can Snapchat really make sexting safer?

Snapchat, which allows users to set a 10-second expiration on potentially compromising text and picture messages so that they cannot be forwarded or shared, has already seen 1 billion images shared.


Can Snapchat really make sexting safer?

Can Snapchat really make sexting safer?

The growing popularity of ‘sexting' -- sending flirtatious text messages and revealing pictures -- among the young and not-so-young is leading to more and more intimate information that was meant to be private becoming extremely public. Thanks to smartphones and social media, disseminating this most sensitive of information has never been easier, and for every unknown teenager who unwittingly becomes the video clip attachment in a shared email there are also numerous high-profile cases of celebrities -- from Scarlett Johansson to N-Dubz and Mila Kunis -- finding themselves equally exposed, through a poor choice of partner, handset or password.

Snapchat, available on iPhone and new to Android, is touted as a safe way of sexting. Users can set a timer for a maximum of 10 seconds after which the recipient will no longer be able to read the message or see the image. As the publicity blurb says: "They'll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever. We'll let you know if they take a screenshot!"

Not surprisingly, the app has already been adapted by millions of teenagers since its September 2011 launch on the iPhone and it was rolled out for Android on October 29 -- but not before celebrating a significant milestone: 20 million uses every day and 1 billion photos shared.

Sexting "normal behavior"

But such figures should come as no surprise. A survey published in September by the University of Southern California showed that 15% of teenagers freely admitted to sexting and that teens with smartphones are 1.5 times more likely to report being sexually active, almost twice as likely to have been approached for sex online and more than twice as likely to have sex with a partner encountered on the internet than teenagers who don't have internet access on their phones.

Of the study, assistant professor in the USC School of Social Work Eric Rice said: "Teens live in a world where sexting seems like a normal behavior and not just among their friends. They hear about politicians and celebrities in the news doing it, too. Imagine how vulnerable teens are to this behavior when it seems like adults do this all the time. We've never had to deal with these kinds of consequences. But they are real even if they start off digital. Teens needs help navigating this technology even though they seem so expert."

False sense of security

On the surface, Snapchat could seem like the perfect solution for protecting teenagers and celebrities alike but, as Graham Curley from SophosLabs highlights in his NakedSecurity blog, the app is in danger of creating a false sense of security among users and the risks are still there. "The truth is that anyone can take a screenshot of their device (if they are nimble fingered enough) and create their own copy of the image. The Snapchat app says it will tell you if someone takes a screenshot, but what action are you going to take if you share a photo in confidence, only to discover that someone has chosen to keep a permanent record?"

He also points out that there are ‘how to' guides on the internet for circumventing Snapchat and that using another device to photograph the image will be absolutely untraceable and that even Snapchat's own privacy policy admits that it can't actually promise any naked photos you send through the app will be available only for 10 seconds.

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