Snapchat is thriving and that’s a great sign for your privacy


Losing grip on your online privacy? Snapchat’s success is a sign that you have a chance to hang on. (Reuters photo)

What do you think of when you think of Snapchat? Probably silly teenagers, dumb photos and sexting. But don’t miss the bigger picture of an app that could stand for something much more significant: a return of some online privacy.

Long ago, we surrendered our privacy on social networks. Your hundreds of Facebook “friends” know your latest move. Everyone can read your tweets. You could protect your tweets, but then you miss out on the core Twitter experience. You would be better fulfilled going to a restaurant and not eating.

So here’s the reason to believe in Snapchat. Facebook was once the new kid on the block too. It was only used by college students to share the often trivial and immature things we all care about in college. Then it went mainstream and people of all ages were connecting in new ways.

Snapchat has a chance to follow Facebook’s trajectory because it’s totally different — a social network about privacy. While Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook trumpet the benefits of openness, Snapchat realizes some conversations and photos are best when not shared with all 237 of your contacts.

Think back to the last great face-to-face conversation you had. It probably happened in a small group, or with just one person. Snapchat enables that sort of personal connection.

All of the positive news for Snapchat lately indicates it is on to something. A study found that 9 percent of cellphone owners use Snapchat. About 350 million snaps are shared every day. AllThingsD reported Snapchat is mulling a round of financing that values it at $3.5 billion. For perspective, Instagram sold for $1 billion.

Obviously Snapchat isn’t perfect. Much has been written about how photos and videos will linger on your phone’s hard drive. And anyone can take a screengrab of a photo you send them on Snapchat. So there are limits to the privacy it currently provides.

These flaws don’t take away from the fact that Snapchat emphasizes privacy significantly more than most social sharing services, and the market of users is responding positively. Snapchat has a chance to address these issues, or another start-up could seize a profitable opportunity. While online privacy is on the ropes, we just received $3.5 billion reasons it’s not dead yet.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | October 25, 2013