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Snapchat's Evan Spiegel: Our secrets are sacred, but yours aren't

By David Holmes , written on December 17, 2014

From The News Desk

Yesterday, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel became the latest high-profile victim of the ever-worsening Sony hack, which revealed personal emails, social security numbers, full unreleased movies, and a host of other materials.

We won't go into detail about what was revealed. What's perhaps more newsworthy -- or at least ironic, considering Snapchat's far-from-pristine record on user privacy -- is Spiegel's self-righteous reaction to having his "secrets" revealed.

In a note titled "Keeping Secrets," sent to his team and shared on Twitter, Spiegel writes:

I’ve been feeling a lot of things since our business plans were made public last night. Definitely angry. Definitely devastated.

I felt like I was going to cry all morning, so I went on a walk and thought through a couple of things. I even ran into one of my high school design teachers. She gave me a huge hug. I really needed it.

And I really need to tell you that I’m so proud of all of you. I want yo give you all a huge hug because keeping secrets is exhausting.

Keeping secrets means coming home late, after working all day and night. Curling up with your loved ones, hanging out with your friends, and not being able to share all of the incredible things you’re working on. It’s painful. It’s tiring.

Secrets also bring us together.

We keep secrets because we love surprising people. We keep secrets because it’s the best way to keep showing the world that growth is not only possible, it’s necessary. We keep secrets because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the easy thing to do.

We keep secrets because we get to do our work free from judgment - until we’re ready to share it. We keep secrets because keeping secrets gives you space to change your mind until you’re really sure that you’re right.

We care about taking the time to get things right. Secrets help us do that.

Secrets keep the space between the community and the public - space that we need to feel safe in our expression and creativity.

I am so sorry that our work has been violated and exposed.

A couple of people have asked me what we’re going to do. First we’re going to be really mad and angry and upset. And that’s ok.

It’s not fair that the people who try to build us up and break us down get a glimpse of who we really are. It’s not fair that people get to take away all the hard work we’ve done to surprise our community, family, and friends.

It’s not okay that people steal our secrets and make public that which we desire to remain private.

When we’re done being mad and angry and upset we’re going to keep doing exactly what we are doing. And then we’re going to do it ten times better.

We’re going to change the world because this is not the one that we want to live in.

Evan Spiegel

December 17, 2014

Wow, I've never seen Spigel that upset, not even when those repulsive fratboy emails were revealed; at the time Spiegel said he was "embarassed," but "devastated"? Not exactly. And he certainly didn't get that angry when millions of his users' own secrets -- that is, their usernames and phone numbers -- were made public in a hack. Spiegel refused to personally apologize, and it only over a week later that the company itself issued an apology.

And then there's the issue of how Snapchat protects its users' secrets against government intrusion. According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Snapchat doesn't require a warrant to send a Snap that's still on its server to law enforcement authorities. The company has since denied this claim, saying it does require warrants. However it's worth noting that Snapchat is among the few major technology firms that does not publish regular transparency reports. A spokeswoman told the Huffington Post, "We look forward to developing a formal transparency report and processes for providing notifications to users in the future."

And finally, last May, the FTC ruled that the company misled users about the security of its "disappearing" images. “If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez wrote in a statement

In some ways, Spiegel's internal message to employees is commendable, displaying a strong sense of leadership in the wake of the breach. But by making the statement public, the CEO comes off as a bit hypocritical in light of the company's spotty record on protecting user data. Perhaps this is one secret Snapchat should have kept to itself.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]