FOX 29 Explores Snapchat - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

FOX 29 Explores Snapchat

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Have you heard of Snapchat? Chances are, if you've heard of the hugely popular app, you heard about it from a teenager. In less than 2 years, Snapchat has become as popular as Facebook and is now valued at almost 900 million dollars, but the app also has a dark side.

It's the fastest, easiest and hottest new way to connect with friends.

"I can do it when I'm on the go," says Chad Hilliard, a Snapchat user.

"It's really fun because you can send as many pictures as you want," says Morgan Flood, another user.

"I just snapchatted a picture of Ben Franklin's grave," says Matt Jepertinger.

It's called Snapchat and it's social media's latest hit. The app allows users to communicate through pictures and videos. It all happens in a flash. The snap comes as quickly as it goes.

"It's better than just a message. I can see what they are doing, their facial expressions," says Marcelo Prata.

But there may be a downside to snapchatting. Because many users believe that those rapid-fire pictures will disappear after just a few seconds, it's creating a whole new twist to sex ting. But experts say those racy or explicit photos may not always self-destruct.

Now, minors are getting caught in the act.

"So we're seeing teens use them for sexually explicit materials," says Rob D'Ovidio.

Rob D'Ovidio, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Drexel University, is an expert in computer and high technology crime. He speaks to students about the dangers of snapchatting.

"So we've seen teenagers use snapchat to send sexually explicit images back and forth to boyfriend or girlfriend, people that you may be romantically interested in...and those pictures have a way of getting out there," says D'Ovidio.

The app was created by two Stanford University students. It launched in September 2011. Now, over 200 million Snapchats are sent every day. In fact, it's the number one social media outlet, outpacing even Facebook.

Snapchat allows users to send photos and videos that last anywhere from one to ten seconds. It's simple; you take your photo, add a caption, pick the time you want it to be viewed, and then choose your friends from your contact list. Once it's opened, it's gone.

But are the photos really gone?

"So if I grabbed your phone after you received a snapchat message and it disappears, I thumb through the menu options, thumb through the photo library, even go into the snapchat app, I'm not going to be able to find the trace of that message. However, if I have that phone and with one of a number of commonly available computer forensics tools that deal with cell phones, I can retrieve that image and that snapchat message very easily," explains D'Ovidio.

Not only are users finding out how to get the photos back, there is also the screenshot feature available to many phones. If the user takes a screenshot in the 10 seconds that they are viewing the snapchat, the photo is saved in their album.

"I think people make decisions in the moment and they can regret it quickly or really soon after. And it's kind of, it has potential to haunt you forever," says Laura McDermott.

In fact, there are websites that display screenshots of snapchats that users have received and sent in. Because some users may be under 18 years old, D'Ovidio says it could be considered child pornography. And under Pennsylvania's "sexting law," it's illegal to send nude or illicit photos.

D'Ovidio says parents need to keep their eyes open.

"Educate them on the implications of sending sexually explicit pictures with captions on them to their friends who are minors or sometimes even they're adults. let them know what the ramifications are, and how that can impact their ability to get into college, how that can impact their ability to get a job after college," says D'Ovidio.

According to the Snapchat website, users must be at least 13 years old to use the app. But because it's free, there is no way of verifying the user's age when signing up.

And since there's no way to know for sure who is at the other end of the snap, young users can become a prime target for predators.

"So if you start getting these more advanced cameras that have GPS tagging capabilities or smartphones that have GPS tagging capabilities, they're actually capturing and attaching the meta-data to that picture that shows where that photo was taken," says D'Ovidi.

Last month Snapchat released a more limited version of the app called Snapkidz for children under 13. The PG version disables the social features of the app, so kids can't send or receive snaps or add friends.

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