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Snapchat reassures users that photo messages are still totally private

The photo-sharing service has disputed claims that changes to its privacy policy will allow it to store and share users' messages.

Snapchat insists it does not store users' photos.

Photo-messaging app Snapchat has reassured users that their photos will not be stored on its servers after changes to its privacy policy caused widespread confusion.

The Venice, California-based company published a blog post on Sunday clarifying changes that were made to its Privacy Policy and Terms and Services last week. Photos shared through Snapchat disappear after the recipient has viewed them, but users have been fretting that the updates allowed Snapchat to store photos and share them with advertisers.

Photo messages "are automatically deleted from our servers once we detect that they have been viewed or have expired", just as they were before, Snapchat said. It does not stockpile pictures, and never has.

Changes to terms and conditions often leave users confused about whether they still have the same rights and expectations of privacy as they did before. In 2012, Instagram backed down after causing outrage by changing its privacy policy to say it could sell users' photos. Snapchat's policy update was not nearly as controversial as Instagram's, but the reaction it elicited goes to show that companies need to invest time in explaining what changes will really mean to users.

Snapchat now says it has a broad license so it can legally publish any photos in public that have been submitted to it specifically for that purpose. This has actually always been the case, but somewhat ironically, Snapchat has said the update was intended to make the wording of the policy clearer.

It has also updated its language regarding in-app purchases. "We needed to do that now that we're selling Replays -- and have some other cool products and services we're looking forward to bringing to you soon," Snapchat said. In-app purchases and promoted content will be part of the company's long-term strategy for monetizing the app.