Snapchat Employees Abused Internal Tool to Spy on Users

By Bill Toulas / May 24, 2019

According to a piece by Motherboard which is based on multiple sources, a number of Snapchat employees has repeatedly abused an internal tool named “SnapLion” to spy on users. This tool is only accessible by specific employees that are privileged to be able to use it, like the “Spam and Abuse” team that is deployed to help fight bullying and online harassment on the platform. According to reports by anonymous former employees, multiple members of this team have abused their access to the tool to access user data like the geographic location, phone numbers, and email addresses.

But the “Spam and Abuse” team is not the only group of Snapchat employees that had access to SnapLion apparently. As Motherboard confirmed through their own analysis of shared internal email content, other teams such as the “Customer Ops” or the “Security” were also actively using SnapLion, almost entirely unattended or controlled by their employers or management. Reportedly, the tool wasn't even logging the activities of its users until recently. Tools like this one are needed in order to enable platforms like Snapchat to enforce terms and policies and ensure that the content of their users is in full alignment with the law requirements. For example, users should not be able to pass around child pornography on Snapchat, so a tool that enables the platform to check this needs to be in place.

Snapchat is a messaging app that has the characteristic feature of keeping the messages accessible to the recipient only for a short period of time (1 to 10 seconds). These short-termed, short-lived media that are called “snaps” are appealing to the younger audience, as the disappearing of the messages seems to give them a kind of added value, connected to the moment. Moreover, the ephemerality creates a sense of privacy for the users, who think that they can’t get exposed to other users than the original recipient.

However, this story goes to show that every online service, and especially the larger ones, has multiple teams of people behind them that are called to closely monitor the user activity for the reasons described above. The power to access doesn’t always come with the corresponding responsibility, so cases that show the dangers of having internal tool abuse are not unique to Snapchat. As we showed a month ago, Amazon faced similar problems with their employees, and try to figure out the optimal formula of allowing them to do their work effectively while not exposing sensitive user information.

Are you annoyed by the fact that Snapchat employees can access your sensitive personal information, or do you accept it and move on? Let us know where you stand in the comments down below, and also on our socials, on Facebook and Twitter.

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