Snapchat is an application that allows you to send picture messages, with text, that supposedly delete themselves after a set amount of time. Forensic researcher, Richard Hickman, has found that they may be more permanent than we first suspected.
In an article published on The Guardian website, he explains that: “Metadata is stored for Snapchat images… and that it contains metadata about expired ‘snaps’ as well as unexpired ‘snaps’, and that images that are sent via Snapchat are indeed recoverable, and do not ‘disappear forever’.” This means that there are ways to see Snapchats that have been supposedly deleted from your device.
The application has had millions of installs from the Android and Apple App stores and has been highly popular since its launch in 2011. It has not been without controversy though. Frank Reginald Brown, a former classmate of founders Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, claims that the concept was his idea on an app he was working on, called Picaboo, and he is currently responsible for a pending lawsuit against the company. Richard Hickman’s discovery, however, is the biggest controversy that the company has faced since launch.
“Snap an ugly selfie or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few).” Claims the Snapchat website: “They’ll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears.” But where does it disappear to?
According to Hickman’s investigation, they never actually leave your phone. They are still present there as “.NoMedia” file extensions, which basically means that other applications are told to ignore these files so they will not come up in searches on your device. Curious about whether this was the case, I plugged my phone in and ran a basic search on windows explorer for “.NoMedia” files. This turned up with a list of files, however, I do not have the software to open them on my PC and so I was unable to ascertain whether or not these were indeed snaps that had been sent to me or if another application had also been saving things as “.Nomedia”.
“I was surprised no one else had done it because of how easy it was,” said Hickman to Forbes magazine. “It just took a couple of days to discover it.”
Having talked to numerous students on campus and receiving worried looks from some of them, it might be worth mentioning that your snaps are relatively safe – for now. I’m lead to believe that it is actually quite hard to convert these files into something that you can actually view. I’m also doing this investigation using a Samsung Galaxy Note which runs Android 4.1.2 so I can’t say for iOS users if this works either. There is, however, an article on buzzfeed that gives instructions for how to do it on iOS. I can’t say whether it works or not though.
At the moment I’m following a forum chat on xdadevelopers for Android, where they have been discussing this since early last year. They suggest methods of storing your Snapchats via syncing folders on your phones with cloud storage drives such as Skydrive and Dropbox for files that aren’t actually open. It’s questionable at best and probably won’t work unless you have a working knowledge of how these things work (not something I have).
In regards to accessing opened Snapchats, the forum recommends installing an app called Dumpster which apparently recovers deleted files – kind of like a recycle bin on a PC – including Snapchat files. From here you can recover the files by removing the “.Nomedia” suffix after the .jpg/.mp4 appendage.
To many, including myself, this all seems to be well and truly in a grey area as far as morality is concerned. I agree with the statement that founder Evan Spiegel made to Buzzfeed: “The people who most enjoy using Snapchat are those who embrace the spirit and intent of the service. There will always be ways to reverse engineer technology products — but that spoils the fun!”
Whatever way you choose to use the app, just make sure that you use it responsibly!
Stay safe kids and let us know what you think about the potential of your old Snaps coming back to haunt you, below…