Yesterday’s hilarious Facebook photo can easily become today’s biggest regret. Hence, the explosive rise of the new photo-sharing app, Snapchat. Snapchat allows users to create “Snaps,” user photos with built-in self-destruct timers. Users can decide how long the recipients can view the photos after which time they are permanently deleted from both the recipient’s device as well as from Snapchat servers. Viewing times are set for between 1 to 10 seconds. Wikipedia, Snapchat (last modified 8 December 2013).

The rise of Snapchat is appealing from a business marketing perspective. For example, Snapchat could be used to promote a company’s image through the use of sending Snaps to targeted audiences via social media.

To demonstrate the level of interest Snapchat is garnering, it was recently rumoured that Snapchat rebuffed a $3 billion acquisition attempt from Facebook and a $4 billion acquisition attempt from Google—despite not earning any revenue to date. Forbes, Snapchat: ‘How to make $3 Billion – or was it $4 Billion – Disappear (And Other Quotes of the Week)” (11/17/2013).

While photo-sharing apps like Snapchat raise interesting legal issues in the IP space, the popularity of minimizing one’s “digital footprint” highlights the changing landscape of privacy law. With the advent and increasing use of social media, there is a growing concern that photos, status updates, comments, tweets and other posts might have indefinite lasting effects. Such posts are stored on a social network’s server and may be difficult, if not impossible, to remove. The appeal of Snapchat is that information shared via social media can be timely yet temporary.

Currently, Canada’s privacy law does not specifically address how information submitted to social media forums is used, collected or disclosed. While the federal Privacy Act, and mirroring provincial legislation, govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information held by government agencies, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) applies similar privacy obligations to private sector organizations. R.S.C., 1985, c. P-21; S.C. 2000, c. 5.

Both the Privacy Act and PIPEDA give individuals the right to access and request correction of personal information.Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Privacy Legislation in Canada (revised March 2009).

However, neither currently allow an individual to request the deletion of such personal information; nor does either address the use of information submitted to online social media forums.

While Snapchat certainly allows individuals (and likely corporations, as Snapchat continues to gain widespread popularity) to exert more control over their digital footprint, users must continue to remain cognizant of legal issues such as copyright infringement and disclosure of confidential information that can still arise, even in an environment where information is only temporarily stored. And, no application offers a perfect or fail-safe way to ensure one’s online privacy:  the recipient could always take a “screenshot” or a photograph of any online material. Ultimately, as with all social media, one should take caution with what is willingly posted to others so as to avoid becoming “internet famous” for all the wrong reasons.

Daniel Daniele ( / +1 416 216 2317) a lawyer in Norton Rose Fulbright Canada’s Intellectual Property Practice.