For the millions of people who use Snapchat to send sexy messages and whatever else with impunity, this news should make them very, very nervous.
On May 8, researchers at Decipher Forensics, a company in Orem, Utah, announced that they have figured out how to retrieve the supposedly self-destructing photos from the popular now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t photo-sharing app Snapchat. And will do so for a fee.
Snapchat, which allows users to send friends photos that vanish within 10 seconds of being viewed, made its debut in 2012 and has quickly grown into one of the most popular apps in the U.S., particularly with high school and college students. Snapchat’s popularity comes at a time when social media consumers are increasingly aware of the permanence of their social media footprint—and anxious about how their quickly tossed-off photos and observations on such sites as Facebook and Twitter could come back to haunt them.
Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research told us recently that it’s no surprise that teenagers would be the first to appreciate the advantages of impermanent social media. “This cohort has grown up with the expectation of surveillance by people who hold direct power over them,” said Boyd. “It’s not about surveillance (by) companies or the state. It’s surveillance (by) their teachers, their college admissions officers, their parents.”
The appeal of Snapchat—and a growing number of companies specializing in ephemeral media—is that once the expiration date has passed, you no longer have to worry about whatever it is you just shared. It’s gone forever. Nobody can dredge it back into public view.
Unless, of course, somebody can.
Enter Decipher Forensics.
On Tuesday, the company announced that using special forensics software, it can now effectively retrieve long-vanished Snapchats from a phone. “This type of information can be very valuable in any investigation, especially one involving exploitation of a minor,” said Richard Hickman, a lead examiner at Decipher Forensics. “This research will help law enforcement officials retrieve what has been believed to be unrecoverable.”
“The average person cannot turn on their phone and find these pictures, though,” notes the company’s press release. “It takes special forensics software at this point. Digital forensics companies like Decipher Forensics have the available tools to find these pictures and provide them to clients. Decipher Forensics is offering not only to law enforcement, but to the general public, its services in retrieving Snapchat pictures.”
Right now the service is limited to smartphones running Android software. But Hickman, reached by phone on Thursday morning, says the company is busy working to extend the Snapchat-recovery service to iPhones.
How much does it cost to recover Snapchat photos?
Decipher Forensics charges $300 to $500 per phone, says Hickman.