They See You When You’re Snapping; They See You When You’re Streaming

Snapchat, Periscope and similar apps give people a peek into the lives of friends, celebrities and, at times, perfect strangers. Snapchat in particular has a reputation for allowing people to send salacious images to each other that would then be automatically deleted forever (though, if you check out the terms of service, you discover that’s not exactly accurate regarding the images’ longevity). But once in a while, these apps showcase something very different.

According to a press release from the Franklin County, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney, a grand jury returned an indictment this spring against teenagers Marina Lonina and Raymond Gates in connection with a rape that they live-streamed on the Periscope app. Lonina and Gates have been indicted on charges of kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and other crimes.

More recently, a man sued Snapchat, after a teenager crashed her car into his and seriously disabled him. The teenager was using Snapchat to record her speed—which clocked in at 107 mph at the time of impact—hoping to win a ‘trophy,’ awarded to Snapchat users after they achieve a certain task.

Is Snapchat actually encouraging its users to participate in highly dangerous activities such as speeding and “snapping while driving”? According to an e-mail sent from a Snapchat spokesperson to the New York Times, Snapchat actively discourages its users from using the speed filter while driving.

Interestingly, the police in the Snapchat case said they didn’t know anything about the app when they started the investigation.

Perhaps the reason that the police find little utility in Snapchat for investigative purposes is that the images recorded and shared on the app eventually “self-destruct.” But Periscope is different, and the police do seem to be aware of that fact.

It may be prudent to start considering how the use of these apps by police may raise privacy concerns and potential Fourth Amendment issues. The monitoring of Periscope by police could certainly cause some to think in terms of a “Big Brother” scenario.

In the meantime, app users might want to trade in the 107 mph speed display, for a nice, ironic—and safe!—0 mph display while their adorable dog sleeps.

Snapchat Dog Sleeping