HAVE YOU HEARD THIS SNAPCHAT CONSPIRACY THEORY ?
By JOE MCGAULEY / Thrillist
Your Snapchat followers probably see more of your face than your mom at this point. That’s because those nifty little filters, hilarious face-swaps, and projectile-rainbow-vomit selfies – the best part of Snapchat – keep pulling us back. Without them, it would just be a bunch of people making mundane Stories about what they’re eating etc.,.
But if the internet truthers are to be believed, those Snapchat filters are a whole lot more nefarious than just helping tweens puppy-fy their mugs for each other’s amusement. The truth is out there, and it (might) involve 9/11, the FBI, and a 27-year-old rapper named Bobby.
when you realize all the snap chat filters are really building a facial recognition database ☕️🐸
— B.o.B (@bobatl) April 16, 2016
This whole brouhaha began back in April, when rapper B.o.B lit a match on Twitter when he suggested that Snapchat was using its facial-recognition technology to build a database of users’ faces. This coming from a guy who, just a few months earlier, insisted that the world is flat, and even got into a Twitter fight with Neil deGrasse Tyson about it. The good people of Twitter were quick to shoot him down on this theory, too, rampantly mocking him and even suggesting he may be mentally ill.
OK, but guys, what if? What if Snapchat is creating a database of all our embarrassing-ass selfies and then selling it to a third party, like, oh I don’t know, the GOVERNMENT?!?
As it turns out, Mr. o.B (real name: Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr.) wasn’t actually the first person to have this curious query. On September 23rd of last year, Reddit user WtfVegas702 raised some red flags about the then-new feature:
WTF indeed, WtfVegas702. This set off a series of comments from other users in the Conspiracy subreddit who not only echoed the sentiment, but pointed to motives Snapchat might have for doing so. The most legit of these motives points to the FBI, which had recently deployed an initiative to amass a database of millions of peoples faces.
Snapchat — Users Sue … We're Not Gonna Take It in the Face! https://t.co/RbuyVIAaoA
— TMZ (@TMZ) May 19, 2016
According to the FBI itself, the program — officially known as the Next Generation Identification system — would be charged with facial mapping mug shots currently in their system “to see if [they could] find bad guys by matching pictures with mug shots.” Unless you’re a criminal, that’s a tough plan to argue with, except that it wasn’t the whole truth. Gasp!
An investigation by the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the database would actually not just include criminals, but law-abiding citizens with no criminal history whatsoever as well. People who hold jobs of any kind that require them to submit a photo as part of a background check would end up in the database too.
Of course, there is absolutely zero evidence connecting Snapchat with the FBI in any way, shape, or form, nor any to suggest that Snapchat has reason to help build out the Next Generation Identification system, because surely, Snapchat’s $150 million acquisition of facial-recognition technology has nothing to do with the government. Per Snapchat’s own Terms of Service, the company makes it very clear that they delete the photos and videos you send after it’s viewed by the other party. They’re not sharing it with any third parties or logging it into some secret database, or whatever.
Another commenter in that same Reddit thread shared a link to a NYTimes video featuring William Binney, the former US Intelligence official who blew the whistle on the NSA’s secret data collection methods that were put in place following 9/11. In it, Binney discusses the program he outed, the Stellar Wind project, which enabled the NSA to collect vast amounts of metadata about people’s email and Internet habits. Stellar Wind was officially halted in 2011, but the point is, the government could very well be slyly collecting maps of our faces under the aegis of national security.
So what does Snapchat have to say about all of this? I reached out to the company for comment, and they simply directed me to the section of their privacy center that pretty much exists solely to debunk this entire ridiculous notion: “While we are able to recognize faces in general, we don’t store data that would allow us to recognize a specific face.”