Motherboard has uncovered some unfortunate news about Snapchat. A number of Snap employees reportedly used an internal tool to spy on users.
According to multiple sources and leaked internal emails, access to an internal tool called SnapLion, which was originally used to gather information in order to comply with law enforcement requests, was abused by employees. (Lion is a play on words. LEO, which means lion, is a common acronym for Law Enforcement Officer.) Employees were able to wrongfully access users' locations, their phone numbers, and their saved Snaps, among other pieces of data. A former employee referred to the tool as "the keys to the kingdom". Other former employees reported on this tool, internal emails prove it, according to Motherboard also.
Now, SnapLion is used for more than just helping law enforcement. Several departments have access to the tool, compounding the possibility of abuse and unnecessary access. Making things worse, one employee revealed that logging is less than perfect at Snap, so it wouldn't necessarily be easy to monitor abuse of SnapLion. Snap's so-called Spam and Abuse team has access in order to fight against harassment and bullying. Snap's Customer Ops and Security staff also have access, and the report said that the tool is also used to help reset passwords for users whose accounts have been hacked.
However, it is unclear how exactly the abovementioned data misuse occurred. Motherboard could not confirm which tool was used or whether SnapLion is related to it.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time a tech company has been in the news for employees abusing their access to user data. Last year, there were firings at Facebook over employees stalking their exes. Over at Uber, there's the infamous God View which can be used to track the locations of users in real-time, and Uber employees have used their systems to spy on exes and even Beyoncé.
Snapchat is loved by many for its signature disappearing photos and videos which give the illusion of privacy, or at least impermanence, making this news even more disappointing. Will you continue using Snapchat? Let us know what you think of these revelations in the comments.
Update: Snap statement from May 28, 2019:
A spokesman for Snap has sent us a statement on the report:
"Protecting privacy is paramount at Snap. We keep very little user data, and we have robust policies and controls to limit internal access to the data we do have. Unauthorized access of any kind is a clear violation of the company's standards of business conduct and, if detected, results in immediate termination."