4.6 million Snapchat usernames and their associated phone numbers were leaked this week. (If you use the service, there’re a few single serving sites where you can check to see if your information’s out there.)
So does this matter much? I’m having a hard time figuring out why it would. People value Snapchat because it promises them privacy and ephemerality. I send you a message, and it self-destructs a few seconds after you see it. As far as anyone can tell, this leak doesn’t compromise that.
So what’re the actual consequences if your information’s been compromised? Someone who knows your phone number could find out that you use the site and get your username. Or vice versa. Also, your phone number is floating around on a list somewhere, which means that maybe, somewhere down the line, you’ll get more spammy phone calls from marketers on your cellphone. That’s pretty much it.
I suspect that the reason this story is grabby to people is less because the stakes or consequences of it are huge, and more because, on a thumbnail level, it just seems bad. Snapchat = privacy. Leaks = loss of privacy. People are reacting the way I do when I see stories about food contamination at a restaurant. I don’t really want to know the details of how bad the contamination is, I just feel a visceral aversion to the place.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how much this does end up mattering. My guess is not a lot. I think the privacy that users want from Snapchat is immediate privacy from their friends and families and spouses, not the larger privacy that journalists and geeks worry about. But we’ll see.