Real-time chat apps Snapchat and Facebook's Poke are supposed to allow users full control over who sees a photo or video message, and for how long, before it disappears from the Internet forever. But do they really?
While both services claim to permanently delete all content sent through their systems, Buzzfeed discovered a simple way to save videos sent via the apps.
Last week, the site reported that Snapchat and Poke both locally store copies of shared videos, which are easily accessible with a free iPhone file browser. Buzzfeed explained the process, beginning with the user not opening content received in either app.
"Just tap to load it," the site said. "Again, don't open it."
To view the content, you plug an iPhone into a PC and open a file browser like iFunBox. Within the User Applications menu, navigate to the Snapchat folder, and open the "tmp" folder. Those using Facebook's new Poke app have to dig a little deeper and find the nested folder "library/caches/fbstore/mediacard". Once in either app's relevant folder, simply copy the files to the PC, and enjoy forever what were meant to be only fleeting moments in video capture history.
"Critically, Snapchat's videos remain in this folder even after they're viewed. Poke videos appear to be deleted as soon as they're viewed," Buzzfeed pointed out. Buzzfeed was unable to locate photos in any of the app's folders.
A Facebook spokesman said the company is still investigating the loophole, and admitted that the app is "not designed to be a secure messaging system."
"While Pokes disappear after they are read, there are still ways that people can potentially save them," he said. "For example, you could take a screenshot of a photo, in which case the sender is notified. People could also take a photo of a photo you sent them, or a video of a video, with another camera. Because of this, people should think about what they are sending and share responsibly."
Snapchat did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel stuck to the concept of spontaneity when asked by Buzzfeed about the exploit and plans to fix it.
"The people who most enjoy using Snapchat are those who embrace the spirit and intent of the service. There will always be ways to reverse engineer technology products - but that spoils the fun," Spiegel said.
Snapchat is also available to Android users, having launched in late October, but not without its own snafu. The app was apparently saving versions of unwatched videos in the media gallery of Android phones; a bug fix was rolled out early this month.