Snapchat has grown into an immensely popular social network, with more than 190 million average daily users in the first part of 2019. Not only are there hundreds of millions of users, but the app has also achieved incredible market penetration with younger users – 75 percent of Americans age 13 to 24 use the service.
Snapchat, of course, was originally created to provide a temporary chat experience. Pictures shared with friends on Snapchat would disappear ten seconds after being seen, while the more involved “Stories” would persist for 24 hours before vanishing. Because of this perceived privacy protection, Snapchat became notorious as a place for people to share their most intimate photographs.
Because of that widespread use of the service, and even more so because so many of the site’s users are teenagers, concerns grew about the possibility that unscrupulous users of the site might use screen capture or screen recording technology to make permanent copies of the images that were supposed to be transient. Snapchat began creating a feature that would alert users if someone took a screenshot of their snaps.
Since then, various techniques and methods for taking stealthy screenshots have been discovered. Some of which have been blocked by Snapchat. Others are impossible to detect.
While there have been variations in when and how screenshots would be detected and recorded by Snapchat, in this article I will explain the current status of screenshot and screen recording notifications on Snapchat as of December 2019.
iPhones and Screen Recording on Snapchat
If you have the Snapchat app open on your iPhone, are looking at a snap or a story, and you take a screenshot by pushing the Home button and the Power button at the same time, Snapchat will register your screenshot and will then do two things: one, it will put a mention in your chat log or feed that you took the screenshot, and two, it will send an alert to the person you are in chat with to inform them of what happened.
This alert will appear as a popup in the other person’s Snapchat, and – in case that gets missed in the flood of notifications – Snapchat will also put a notification in the chat log or feed.
Can you Screen Record a Snapchat Story Without Them Knowing?
The development of Apple’s iOS version 11 in September of 2017 created a huge public relations problem for Snapchat because iOS 11 rolled out a new feature to iPhones: screen recording. With screen recording, iPhone users could press a button and automatically record everything that happened on their phone’s display.
This could include gameplay sequences, TV shows or movies that were playing…or it could be Snapchat pictures and videos.
The problem wasn’t that iPhone users could record Snapchat sessions; after all, pretty much anybody can record or screenshot a Snapchat session. The problem was that Apple’s screen recording feature was invisible to Snapchat, and did not generate any warning message to the user whose pictures or videos were being archived. Suddenly, millions of Apple users had an easy and undetectable way of breaking Snapchat’s privacy protection system.
After a great deal of public outrage and “doom!” blog posts in the iOS world, Snapchat announced that as of version 10.17.5 of the app, they would be able to detect iPhone screen recordings. As of June 2019, Snapchat is at version 10.59.0.0, so this issue has long been resolved. However, there are still a great many articles and blog entries and YouTube videos around that still have the older information, from before Snapchat updated the app.
Although Apple does not permit third-party app developers to create screenshot apps for the iPhone, the same is not true for screen recording software. There are a number of screen recorder programs, some of which work on versions of iOS prior to iOS 11, and some of which involve using an iPad or desktop computer to do the recording of an iPhone that is connected via a data cable.
Whether these methods are detected by Snapchat is an open question; as most of these apps are paid programs, we have not been able to test them. (If you have one of these screen recording programs and can test whether Snapchat detects their operation, please share that information with us in the comments section of this article.)
Android Phones and Screen Recording on Snapchat
The world of Android smartphones is far more wide-open than Apple’s relatively controlled sandbox. Not only are there multiple developers of Android operating systems, but the operating system itself also has multiple forks and versions; there are at least 16 major players in the Android smartphone market, and that’s just the large companies that command significant market share.
Practically any software developer can set themselves up to release new versions of Android for smartphones, and many have; on top of that, the phone manufacturers themselves are notorious for making their own semi-proprietary skins of Android to set their product offerings apart from the competition.
Can you Screen Record a Snapchat Story Without them Knowing?
Accordingly, while a default screenshot in Android (Power button + Volume Down button) will be detected in Snapchat, there is absolutely nothing stopping third-party app developers from creating their own screenshot programs, and they have.
There are hundreds of them on the Google Play store, and hundreds more screen recording programs as well. For the most part, these programs are not detected by Snapchat, nor does Snapchat plan to attempt to block the operation of these programs.
The problem is the nature of the Android architecture itself; it is a very open platform yet it also provides individual applications with very good security, making it impossible for one app to “spy” on another without cooperation between developers.
Snapchat can detect a particular combination of buttons and identify that as a screenshot, but it cannot query other apps running on the device and demand to know whether they are using Android function calls to record the screen.
The bottom line is that on Android it is trivially easy to take a screenshot or a screen recording of a Snapchat picture or video, and Snapchat simply cannot detect it.
Even if the Android world became a lot more like the neat and tidy managed community that Apple tyrannizes, it wouldn’t be possible for Snapchat to protect its users from screenshots and screen recording, because there are methods for doing screen capture that completely bypasses the software of the device in question.
On iPhones, there are techniques for using QuickTime on a desktop computer to capture the video display from a connected iPhone. On Windows machines, you can set up an Android emulator like BlueStacks or Nox and install Snapchat on the emulator, then use built-in Windows screenshots and screen recording programs to archive anything you want to capture. It’s even possible to set up another device and use its built-in camera to record what is being displayed on the screen of your phone, bypassing all of Snapchat’s security features completely. Or, if you want to get really old school, you can just take a picture of your phone screen with another camera.
Snapchat, although it does not trumpet these facts to its userbase, has quietly stopped claiming that it can stop people from taking screenshots without notifying its users. The promise of a completely temporary photo- and video-sharing experience, while attractive at its inception, has proven to be technologically impossible to deliver.
Smartphone operating systems are simply too good at providing apps with the necessary functionality, and smartphones themselves are simply too easy to network and interface to other machines. Neither Snapchat nor any other app developer can hope to exert meaningful control over a computing environment that expandable and flexible.
Protecting Your Privacy
With all this in mind, what can you do to protect your privacy in Snapchat?
One thing to keep in mind is that once someone has access to your snaps or your stories, you should assume that they have permanent access to them. That is, once they’ve gotten permission to view your stuff, it could very easily be saved to their local hard drive or to the cloud, or worse yet published in some unsavory corner of the Deep Web. So if you have “that kind” of material in your Snapchat past, you should probably consider your privacy already violated.
Going forward, it is important to limit access to your Snapchat feed to people who you know and trust. This is an alien concept for many people today who have grown up with “Influencer” culture and an assumption that more followers and more viewers are always better. When it comes to your most private material, though, that isn’t true. If you don’t mind that kind of material being public, then that’s fine – that’s your choice. If you do want to restrict it, you need to restrict your Snapchat. Here are some steps to take to do that.
- Set your account privacy option to Friends Only. This means that only your mutually-declared friends can see your postings.
- Turn off “Quick Add”. The Quick Add function is great for people trying to build an indiscriminate following as large as possible. Under Settings, find “See Me in Quick Add”, tap on it, and toggle off the setting.
- Decline random requests. When you get a friend request from someone you don’t know, decline it.
- Don’t publish your username or Snapcode.
- If you have snaps saved in your Memories, move them to the My Eyes Only section. Tap the checkmark in the upper-right hand corner of the Memories section, select the images you want to secure, and tap the lock icon at the bottom of the app.
Since its inception, Snapchat has become one of the world’s largest social media platforms largely due to the ephemeral nature of Snapchat messages. Being able to send and receive temporary pictures and videos can be very fun, but it can feel like an invasion of privacy when people screen record your posts or stories.
While Snapchat does notify you when someone screen records any of your Snaps, it’s important to keep in mind that there are third-party apps that can get around this. So, as you should when using any social media platform, be mindful of the content you post to Snapchat. Once it’s out there, it’s hard to control what happens to it.
Do you have Snapchat privacy tips or suggestions to share with our other readers? Please, comment below!
Related TechJunkie Articles
Want to get more out of your Snapchat experience?
Here’s our guide to creating a private story in Snapchat.
Want to change the lifespan of your snaps and stories? We’ve got a tutorial on changing the expiration times for your pictures and videos.
If you want to look at someone’s stories without following or friending them, see our guide to viewing Snapchat stories without following or friending.
When you’re curious to find out whether that special someone is following you, read our walkthrough on how to tell if someone is following you on Snapchat.
For more account security background, see our article on whether Snapchat emails you when someone logs into your account.
Also, make sure to check out our piece on How to Tell if Someone Is Typing in Snapchat.
Need some advice on improving your Snapchat game? Check out this book!