This story is over 5 years old.


Snapchat Reveals How Many of Your Snaps It’s Sharing With the Government

The company complied with 92 percent of government requests.
Image: Shutterstock

Snapchat, the popular self-destructing video and picture messaging app favored by teens and practical jokesters like yours truly, has been handing a surprising number of users' snaps over to the government, according to the company's first-ever transparency report published today.

Specifically, the report shows a total of 403 government requests for Snapchat user information made during the six month period between November 1, 2014 and February 28, 2015.


The results show that 375 requests for user information came from the US, and 28 came from abroad.

Snapchat says it complied with the overwhelming majority of these requests in the US—92 percent—but only complied with 21 percent of the requests for user information that came from overseas.

Most of the requests for Snapchat user information in the US were made in the form of subpoenas (159 requests pertaining to 326 separate pieces of user information) and search warrants (172 requests pertaining to 286 pieces of user information).

Snapchat doesn't specify exactly what types of user information it handed over to government agencies, but at the very bottom of its transparency report, explains that these discrete bits of info can include "username, email address, phone number, etc."

In its previously leaked guide for law enforcement agencies, which Sna​pchat openly linked to today, the company notes that "Snapchat retains logs of previous messages sent and received. The logs contain meta-data about the messages, but not the content." This policy would seem to be in keeping with Snapchat's overall conceit that the messages users send disappear after a short time specified by the users.

Intriguingly though, Snapchat's transparency report also contains a section for requests of content "takedown" and "removal" by both the government and content-owners (companies, presumably). The section shows zero requests in all categories for the six month period the transparency report covers. But if the snaps disappear anyway, how would one even go about requesting the removal of content that's not even there anymore?

"Snapchat retains logs of previous messages sent and received. The logs contain meta-data about the messages, but not the content."

Savvy Snapchat users will of course note that there are several newish features on Snapchat that complicate this entire basic premise. One is Snapchat​ Stories, video montages comprised of several snaps selected by a user that last for 24 hours and can be viewed by any of the user's friends. Another is Our ​Story, a feature introduced last summer that lets users submit snaps to collaborative video montages about specific local events—say a concert or holiday or sportsball game. These Our Story videos can then be viewed by anybody on Snapchat for as long as the event lasts (and often many hours afterwards). Finally, there's the new Snap​chat Discover feature that was added earlier this year, which is basically a separate section in the app for selected companies to post their own Snapchat videos that last as long as the companies want them to. Because these features are all less transient, they could be areas ripe for content takedown requests, at least more so than the regular old-fashioned person-to-person snaps.

There's still a lot we don't know about the kinds of private information about its users that Snapchat is handing over to government officials and agencies, but its new transparency report is a start, and it's in good keeping with many of Silicon Valley's other big companies (Google started the transparency report trend years ago). Snapchat says it will be releasing a full year's worth of requests later this year, so that should provide more data, if not necessarily insight. Clearly, as the app continues to grow in popularity, it's something that law enforcement agencies are going to be paying much closer attention to. Already, evidence from Snapchat has been introduced in at least one high-profile ​murder case and used in one major child pornogra​phy investigation. There's a high likelihood that authorities will want to get their hands on more Snapchat data in future cases mundane and sensational.