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Mobile firm pays up over data collection chicanery, accepts 20-year watchdogging

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The developers behind the Snapchat photo-sharing app have agreed to a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over allegations of collecting and mishandling user data.

The Commission said that it has agreed with Snapchat to a set of measures that will be placed on the company that will include regular monitoring of the company's operations for the next 20 years.

The settlement will put to rest complaints filed by the FTC alleging that the company misled consumers when it claimed to offer self-deleting photos that could not be stored long-term. The FTC notes that in addition to enabling third-party applications to store Snapchat photos, the company kept data outside of the app sandbox and failed to disclose is geolocation tracking practices to users.

"If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in announcing the settlement (PDF).

"Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action," she warned.

The complaint also references Snapchat's massive January data breach, in which the company admitted to exposing 4.6 million users' account details via an unpatched vulnerability in its API. The company was at the time criticized for failing to address the flaw in a timely manner.

The FTC noted that the breach could impact users beyond Snapchat as the harvested contact details could be used for phishing and spam operations.

Snapchat, meanwhile, admitted to making mistakes in the handling of data and it dealings with end users.

"While we were focused on building, some things didn't get the attention they could have. One of those was being more precise with how we communicated with the Snapchat community," the company said in a blog posting on the settlement.

"This morning we entered into a consent decree with the FTC that addresses concerns raised by the commission," the post continued. "Even before today's consent decree was announced, we had resolved most of those concerns over the past year by improving the wording of our privacy policy, app description, and in-app just-in-time notifications." ®

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