December 31, 2012
Snapchat and Facebook’s Poke users beware.
The self-destructing video and photo message apps apparently each have a bug that allows recipients to save received messages.
According to BuzzFeed, saving the videos is pretty “straightforward” despite assurances by both app providers that sent messages are deleted from the recipient’s Smartphone or tablet within three to 10 seconds of the message being opened.
But what if the recipient saves the message before it is viewed?
This is not good news for users of either messaging service as such apps are often used for sexting — sending photos or videos with nude or sexual content.
A report by Buzzfeed reporter Katie Notopoulos has revealed when video messages are loaded but not opened, after a bit of work, iPhone users can copy these unopened messages to a hard drive which stops them from being deleted automatically.
Poke users, however, have to work a little harder than Snapchat users to get their hands on the videos.
The recipient simply connects his or her iPhone into a computer, and opens a browser such as iFunBox. Next, the user must navigate to the device’s internal storage to find folders for Snapchat.
“Open up the folder called ‘tmp.’ For Facebook’s Poke, videos are stored a little deeper in the app’s files, in library/caches/fbstore/mediacard,” BuzzFeed said in its report. “Copy the videos to your computer. Critically, Snapchat’s videos remain in this folder even after they’re viewed; Poke videos appear to be deleted as soon as they’re viewed. Photos don’t show up, at least not in any place we checked.”
Notopoulos contacted both app providers to see if fixes are in the works. Both Facebook and Snapchat indicated that although the bug would be fixed, there is still no guarantee that video and photo messages would remain private.
Snapchat also recently patched an obvious loophole in Android that saved unwatched videos in the device’s gallery application.
Even though viewed video or photo messages are permanently deleted in a matter of seconds, there also is nothing to stop the recipient from taking a screenshot of the message — a much easier method than searching through file folders.
Although the both Facebook and Snapchat send out an alert once a screen shot is taken, they cannot prevent the recipients from sharing that screen shot with others.
Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel said those who “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.”
Facebook also offered comments: “Poke is a fun and easy way to communicate with your friends and is not designed to be a secure messaging system. While Pokes disappear after they are read, there are still ways that people can potentially save them. For example, you could take a screenshot of a photo, in which case the sender is notified. People could also take a photo of a photo you sent them, or a video of a video, with another camera. Because of this, people should think about what they are sending and share responsibly.”
Facebook launched Poke just before Christmas. For the first few days it was available, the app was one of the most popular downloads on iTunes.
Shortly afterward, its popularity plummeted while Snapchat’s skyrocketed. As of Dec. 30 it was the fourth most popular iPhone app in iTunes. Poke, however, only just made it into the top 100.