Snapchat reveals data-sharing with U.S. government

April 2, 2015, 7:35 PM UTC
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg/Getty Images

Snapchat, the app for sending disappearing messages, is one of the least transparent companies when it comes to divulging details about its growth, its number of users, and venture funding. But today it made an exception by publishing its first ever transparency report to show how often it has shared data with law enforcement.

Such reports have become common among tech companies after Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed the U.S. government collecting vast troves of information about citizens and their activities online. Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook and Google regularly publish transparency reports.

Snapchat’s first report covers a four-month period between November 2014 and February 2015. The company received 375 requests for user data from U.S. authorities during that period. An additional 28 requests came from international governments.

This number of requests is smaller than that of other tech companies. But notably, Snapchat complied with the U.S. government requests at a higher rate than Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Snapchat said it produced at least some data 92% of the time U.S. law enforcement requested it, and 87% of the time globally. By contrast, Twitter provided data 80% of the time in the U.S. and 52% of the time globally. Google complied 84% of the time in the U.S. and 65% of the time globally. Facebook complied 79% of the time in the U.S. and did not provide an overall global number.

The least compliant company is Yahoo. Of the 4,865 U.S. data requests Yahoo received in the last six-month period, the company only complied with 1,157, or 23% of them. The company’s transparency page prominently displays a quote from General Counsel Ron Bell, stating that Yahoo fights any request the company deems “unclear, improper, overbroad, or unlawful.”

Privacy is a particularly hot topic with Snapchat because the photo sharing app’s entire premise is that its photos are self-destructing. But third-party services that used Snapchat’s data allowed users to save Snapchat photos without the sender knowing. Snapchat has since banned third-party apps.

Last year, the FTC investigated the company for misrepresenting its claims of privacy around users’ videos, photos, location sharing and address book data. The company agreed to implement a privacy program that will be monitored by a privacy professional for the next 20 years, facing penalties if it does not comply.

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