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Round Two for Snapchat: Agreement with the Maryland Attorney General Settling Claims of Consumer Deception and COPPA Violations

Written by Julia Siripurapu, CIPP

Just a little over a month after settling charges of false promises of disappearing user messages (among other things) with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), mobile app developer Snapchat, Inc. (“Snapchat” or “Company”) announced that on June 12th  the Company entered into an agreement with the Office of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to resolve similar claims of consumer deception as well as additional allegations of failure to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) and its implementing rule (as amended, the “COPPA Rule”).

Like the FTC complaint, Attorney General Gansler alleged that (1) Snapchat’s marketing claims that user “snaps” “disappear forever” were misleading since snap recipients could copy and save snaps for later viewing and/or distribution and (2) Snapchat collected users’ contacts information from their address books without notice or consent, noting that “companies that operate on the Internet or on mobile devices, especially those popular among youth, have a responsibility to protect their users' privacy and to be up front about what personal information they collect and the permanency of uploaded files.” Gansler further alleged that Snapchat violated COPPA and the COPPA Rule’s requirements to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children under 13, when the Company was aware that some users were 12 and younger. This is the first allegation of COPPA violations brought by an attorney general this year.

Although as noted in the Company’s settlement announcement, “the agreement concluded with Snapchat admitting no violation of any federal, state, or local law,” Attorney General Gansler has enjoined Snapchat from misrepresenting the temporary nature of snaps and required the Company to disclose to users that the recipients of snaps have the ability to capture or copy the photo and video messages they receive. In addition, as part of the settlement Snapchat has agreed:

  • not to make false representations or material omissions in connection with its offer and sale of the Snapchat app,
  • to comply with COPPA and, for a period of 10 years, to take specific steps to ensure children under the age of 13 are not creating Snapchat accounts,
  • to obtain affirmative consent from users before collecting and saving any contact information from consumers' electronic address books, and
  • to pay $100,000 to the state of Maryland.

Under the FTC settlement, Snapchat has agreed to implement a comprehensive privacy program and to submit to monitoring for a period of 20 years. Please see our prior blog post for details of the Snapchat-FTC settlement and key takeaways for mobile app developers.

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Cynthia J. Larose

Member / Chair, Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice

Cynthia J. Larose is Chair of the firm's Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice, a Certified Information Privacy Professional-US (CIPP-US), and a Certified Information Privacy Professional-Europe (CIPP-E). She works with clients in various industries to develop comprehensive information security programs on the front end, and provides timely counsel when it becomes necessary to respond to a data breach.