Images sent via self-destructing selfie service Snapchat may not disappear as reliably as it once advertised, but it turns out that if you want to post incriminating messages without them getting snooped by authorities, Snapchat is still a pretty good place to do it.
That's based on the firm's first-ever transparency report, which it published on Thursday, following in the footsteps of such big tech outfits as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
According to the report, Snapchat received just 375 information requests from US law enforcement agencies in the period from November 1, 2014 through February 28, 2015. By way of comparison, Facebook said it received more than 14,000 requests from US authorities between July and December 2014.
US law enforcement requested information from an ominous total of 666 Snapchat accounts during the reporting period, and Snapchat handed over some data for 92 per cent of the requests.
The number of requests for Snapchat data made by governments outside the US, meanwhile, was almost laughably small. International governments approached Snapchat for information just 28 times – France being the leading snoop with nine requests, followed by the UK with seven – and Snapchat produced user data for foreigners just 21 per cent of the time.
As for other types of government requests – including DMCA notices, government requests to remove content, and National Security Letters and other security-related requests – Snapchat had nothing to report.
You may wonder just what kind of data the service has available to turn over to governments, given that it's marketed as a way to send pics and other messages that disappear a short time after the recipient views them.
But in October 2013, the firm outlined a number of ways that authorities can obtain customers' Snapchat data, adding that it would obey any legal requests. It has since toned down some of its rhetoric about how quickly and thoroughly pictures and other Snapchat data are destroyed, too.
Those moves bothered the Electronic Frontier Foundation, though. It gave Snapchat just one star in last year's "Who Has Your Back?" report, a survey that ranks internet companies based on how well they balance government data requests with users' privacy.
Among the EFF's gripes was that Snapchat had yet to publish a transparency report – an omission it has now rectified. The firm says that from now on it will publish a new report every six months, beginning in July 2015.
It's worth noting, however, that law enforcement hasn't always needed to request data directly from Snapchat to catch criminals who use it. In one recent case, police arrested a teenager after he used Snapchat to send a photo of himself posing with the body of a boy whom he had shot dead.
In another, a fugitive repeatedly send Snapchat messages giving his location at his home, leading police right to him. No back-room requests were involved; in both cases, it was the recipients of the messages who tipped off police by phone. ®