Snapchat reached a settlement today with the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged the Web service deceived its customers with promises that messages sent through the service would disappear.

The FTC said that under the settlement, “Snapchat will be prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy, security, or confidentiality of users’ information. In addition, the company will be required to implement a comprehensive privacy program that will be monitored by an independent privacy professional for the next 20 years.”

The mobile image and video sharing app — which introduced options for direct messages last week — came under fire from the FTC for the “disappearing nature” of its messages.

Snapchat, which prides itself on the ephemeral nature of its messaging, said users would be notified if a recipient tried to screenshot a snap; however, anyone with an Apple device and an operating system pre-dating iOS7 could take a screenshot without being detected. There are also third-party apps that aid in the capture and saving of Snapchat content — and these apps have seen millions of downloads.

“If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises,” said FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez.  “Any company that makes misrepresentations to consumers about its privacy and security practices risks FTC action.”    

Additionally, a faulty “Find Friends” feature on Snapchat resulted in a security breach, affecting over 4.5 million users. Because the app failed to verify user’s phone numbers during registration, many users were sending snaps to strangers who had registered with numbers that didn’t belong to them. Snapchat also transmitted geolocation information for Android users, even though its privacy policy explicitly stated otherwise.

Fashion brands have been testing marketing initiatives using Snapchat, which has a younger user base than many other online services.

While brands are generally looking to get their names out there and reach a broader audience, Snapchat’s users clearly value their privacy especially when it comes to direct messages to other users.

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