WASHINGTON -- In the wake of a massive consumer data breach, the photo messaging app Snapchat hired its first Washington lobbyists last week, according to forms released Monday. Snapchat will be represented on Capitol Hill by the firm of Heather Podesta, a major Democratic campaign contributor and former congressional aide.
Podesta's firm, Heather Podesta + Partners, will focus on issues related to communications policy, technology and consumer protection and will "educate policymakers regarding [Snapchat's] operation and practices," according to the registration form.
Snapchat's new lobbyists could hardly arrive at a better time. On Dec. 31, a website called SnapchatDB.info released the usernames and phone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users, which it said had been acquired by exploiting a flaw in the app's privacy protections.
A massive breach by any standards, the release of personal information was especially embarrassing for Snapchat, whose appeal is based on the idea that photos shared via the app disappear after a short time.
Unlike some other recent consumer data breaches, however, the goal of the Snapchat hack wasn't to gain access to credit card numbers or other financial data. According to the hackers, their goal was merely to "raise public awareness on how reckless many internet companies are with user information." To prove their intent, the hackers redacted the last two digits of each phone number they posted.
Nevertheless, experts say the Snapchat breach could easily prompt an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, which has penalized tech companies in the past for claiming that consumer data were safely guarded, only to have hackers prove otherwise.
The recent user data release isn't the only headache hitting Snapchat. In May, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil rights and privacy advocacy group, filed a complaint against Snapchat with the FTC, alleging that Snapchat lied to customers when it claimed their photos would "disappear forever." In reality, the photos remain stored on users' phones and can be accessed by someone with specialized knowledge. A Snapchat spokesman at the time said the complaint reflected "confusion from those who do not use Snapchat" about the "intent and spirit" of its users.
Hopefully, Podesta and her team can help Snapchat clear up any remaining "confusion" among federal regulators.