Multiple Snapchat employees have abused their access to tools that can give them key information about users, according to a Motherboard report. That includes user data like location information, phone numbers, saved Snaps, and more.
The abuse began “several years ago,” although Motherboard was unable to provide a more specific timeline than that. In addition, Motherboard couldn’t verify how the data abuse occurred or what employees did with the information they accessed.
However, the report did hone in on one particular tool: SnapLion. This tool was designed to help Snapchat respond to law enforcement who’d need user information for court orders or subpoenas. Former employees told Motherboard that SnapLion comes from “LEO,” the acronym for law enforcement officer, and a reference to Leo the Lion.
The tool’s existence was never previously reported, but a number of departments have access to it. According to the report, Snap’s “Spam and Abuse,” plus its “Customer Ops,” and security staff all have access. In addition, a current employee suggested that SnapLion was used to deal with bullying and harassment on the app.
Motherboard reported that a former employee described SnapLion as providing “the keys to the kingdom.”
“Protecting privacy is paramount at Snap. We keep very little user data, and we have robust policies and controls to limit internal access to the data we do have,” a Snapchat spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “Unauthorized access of any kind is a clear violation of the company’s standards of business conduct and, if detected, results in immediate termination.”
It’s not surprising that Snapchat developed a tool like SnapLion. Sometimes, companies do need to access user data. However, these tools need to have strict regulations around them so they cannot be abused from the inside.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Snapchat employees’ improper access to tools. It is a good reminder to users, though, that these apps can collect more information on you than you think.