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Snapchat employees reportedly used their data access privileges to spy on users

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A new report from Motherboard claims that a number of Snapchat employees used internal data access processes to spy on users.

Motherboard’s sources for the report include four former Snapchat employees, a current Snapchat employee, and a cache of internal company emails.

The report claims that multiple Snapchat employees have illegitimately used Snapchat’s data access processes to spy on users and that these data access abuses have happened “a few times.” One of the emails obtained by Motherboard also contains internal discussions where Snapchat employees talk about how the issues of insider threats and access to user data need to be combated.

Motherboard wasn’t able to verify how the data access abuse occurred and doesn’t provide any details on the nature of the alleged spying on Snapchat users.

However, the report does provide additional information on Snapchat’s internal data gathering processes and the user data certain employees have access to through a tool called SnapLion. This tool was reportedly developed to gather information on users in response to valid law enforcement requests but is now used by certain Snapchat employees for other internal operations.

According to one of Motherboard’s sources, SnapLion did not satisfactorily track the user data that employees accessed years ago. However, Snapchat has since implemented more detailed tracking and currently monitors employee access to user data.

Motherboard’s report says that employees could at one time use SnapLion to access the following Snapchat users data:

  • Email addresses
  • Location information
  • Phone numbers
  • Saved Snaps (photos or videos that will disappear after being received unless they’re saved or posted to a user’s Story)

The report adds that the following departments and staff have access to SnapLion:

  • Customer ops
  • Security staff
  • Spam and abuse team

The report claims that SnapLion is used for:

  • Combating bullying and harassment on the platform
  • Reseting passwords of hacked accounts
  • Other user administration

While Motherboard’s sources do allege that some Snapchat employees have spied on users, they also emphasize that the company does work to protect user privacy. They say Snapchat has strict access controls for user data and also has other controls in place that protect user privacy.

Snapchat responded to Motherboard’s story with the following statement:

“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.”

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