It seemed fun and harmless in practice. I had read and heard plenty about Snapchat, the popular app that lets you send a picture (with or without text attached) that the receiver opens and has seconds to view before it disappears.

And that’s just how it works, judging from the fun we had at my mother-in-law’s. I claimed one phone and played around with it with my nieces.

We laughed a lot and that was that. I thought it was great that my sister-in-law got on so well with her girls, that they communicated this way and let the technology bring them closer together.

Then, not a week later, one of the teens I talk to regularly told me about the creepy guy who found her on SnapChat and sent her inappropriate pictures. Her profile is locked down. Her feed is private. Her settings are correctly done so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

So how’d he find her?

The pictures he sent her are long gone now. And she seems fine.

But it’s not fine.

In fact, though the app promises that the pictures are gone after the timer goes off, enterprising souls have found a way around the built in deletion function, by using screenshots or other cameras:

“The danger is nothing lasts for a few seconds - it could last forever,” Utah Attorney General's spokesman Paul Murphy said.

The app’s timer can easily be defeated with a frame grab, though the app does notify the sender if a screenshot is taken. Murphy said somebody could take advantage of the app in a more sophisticated manner.

“Really, you could take a second camera, take a picture of it, that person could have that image and then distribute it to millions of people worldwide in a matter of seconds,” Utah Attorney General’s spokesman Paul Murphy said. “So I think it’s absolute foolishness.”

Maybe the danger is part of the allure. Or…maybe not.

[T]he illusion of security provided by SnapChat may be even more problematic, as it may encourage risky behavior. If people think that their private photos and videos can be shared in a manner that is truly self-destructing (as has been ingrained thanks to movies such as the Mission Impossible series) they are more likely to send them to others. This is especially true for teenager — notorious for sexting and oversharing.

Unlike embarrassing posts on Facebook — which should not be made, but which, if erased quickly, may not been seen/recorded by others — materials sent to others to self-destruct after viewing, are, by definition, seen by others.

The only way to ensure that a photo or video is not distributed is not to distribute it.

SnapChat’s privacy policy says the same:

We cannot guarantee that deletion always occurs within a particular timeframe. We also cannot prevent others from making copies of your Snaps (e.g., by taking a screenshot). If we are able to detect that the recipient has captured a screenshot of a Snap that you send, we will attempt to notify you. In addition, as for any other digital information, there may be ways to access Snaps while still in temporary storage on recipients’ devices or, forensically, even after they are deleted. You should not use Snapchat to send messages if you want to be certain that the recipient cannot keep a copy.

As of August, SnapChat is ranked by Onavo as the 8th most popular app, with 20.8% of the iPhone share in the United States. That’s an increase of 4%, and it’s hard to say whether the dangers are really keeping anyone away.

Were it not for the real-life example I’ve had of a creepy stalker finding someone I know, I would be thinking of ways to use this for good. Engage the culture, right? Meet people where they are (and how they are), right?

Given the dangers, I think I’ll stick to using Twitter or Instagram, thanks, while I continue my due diligence to protect the innocent eyes around me.