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Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNSC,volume 8437)


The privacy-related Snapchat smartphone application allows users to share time-limited photos or videos, which “disappear” after a specified number of seconds once opened. This paper describes the results of a user survey designed to help us understand how and why people use the Snapchat application. We surveyed 127 adult Snapchat users, finding that security is not a major concern for the majority of these respondents. We learn that most do not use Snapchat to send sensitive content (although up to 25 % may do so experimentally), that taking screenshots is not generally a violation of the sender’s trust but instead common and expected, that most respondents understand that messages can be recovered, and that security and privacy concerns are overshadowed by other influences on how and why respondents choose to use or not use Snapchat. Nevertheless, we find that a non-negligible fraction (though not a majority) of respondents have adapted or would adapt their behavior in response to understanding Snapchat’s (lack of) security properties, suggesting that there remains an opportunity for a more secure messaging application. We reflect on the implications of our findings for Snapchat and on the design of secure messaging applications.


  • Secure Messaging Applications
  • Snapchat Users
  • Destruction Message
  • Longer Timeout
  • Respondent Reports

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  1. 1.

  2. 2.

    Respondents could select multiple answers: I set shorter timeouts for embarrassing photos; I set shorter timeouts for content containing secret information; I set longer timeouts for people I trust more. I set shorter timeouts for people I trust less; Other.

  3. 3.

    For each type of content in Fig. 2 that a respondent would not be willing to send via Snapchat, he/she could select multiple reasons for why not: I’m afraid someone will take a screenshot or photo; I don’t trust the Snapchat application; I never take pictures of that kind of thing; I don’t want to bother people; I don’t want it to disappear; I want to share it more publicly; I’d rather send it another way (such as using email, text message, Facebook, Twitter).


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We thank our shepherd, Serge Egelman, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. We thank our survey respondents for their participation, Tamara Denning for feedback on the survey, and Greg Akselrod for feedback on an earlier draft. The cats Tony and Fidget posed for Fig. 1. This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation (Grant CNS-0846065 and a Graduate Research Fellowship, Grant DGE-0718124) and by a Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship.

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Correspondence to Franziska Roesner .

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© 2014 International Financial Cryptography Association

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Roesner, F., Gill, B.T., Kohno, T. (2014). Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat’s Self-Destructing Messages. In: Christin, N., Safavi-Naini, R. (eds) Financial Cryptography and Data Security. FC 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 8437. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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