Snapchat employees spied on users with internal tool, report says

Multiple employees abused privileged access to user data, reports Motherboard.

Carrie Mihalcik Former Managing Editor / News
Carrie was a managing editor at CNET focused on breaking and trending news. She'd been reporting and editing for more than a decade, including at the National Journal and Current TV.
Expertise Breaking News, Technology Credentials
  • Carrie has lived on both coasts and can definitively say that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are the best.
Carrie Mihalcik
2 min read
Snapchat logo is seen on an android mobile phone

One tool, called SnapLion, reportedly gives Snapchat employees the "keys to the kingdom."

Getty Images

Your snaps seem ephemeral, which makes it easy to forget that Snapchat employees can view your data under certain circumstances -- and potentially abuse that access.

Snapchat employees used internal tools to spy on users, according to a report Thursday from Motherboard. The data abuse reportedly happened "a few times" and was carried out by "multiple" people. Two former employees told Motherboard about abuse that allegedly happened several years ago.

Snapchat reportedly has several internal tools that let employees access user data for legitimate reasons, such as fulfilling police requests and enforcing its policies. One tool called SnapLion, which was originally intended to help comply with law enforcement requests, was used by multiple teams at Snapchat and provided "the keys to the kingdom," according to Motherboard.

Motherboard noted in its report that it was unable to verify exactly how the data abuse occurred.

Snap, the parent company behind the social media app, said that protecting user privacy is "paramount."

"Any perception that employees might be spying on our community is highly troubling, and wholly inaccurate," a Snap spokesperson said in an emailed statement Friday. "We keep very little user data, and we have robust policies and controls to limit internal access to the data we do have, including data within tools designed to support law enforcement. Unauthorized access of any kind is a clear violation of the company's standards of business conduct and, if detected, results in immediate termination." 

Originally published May 24, 6:49 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:03 a.m.: Adds comment from Snap.