Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and Other Photo and Video Sharing Apps Becoming More Popular in Family Law

Photo and video sharing apps are becoming increasingly popular.  As with other social media avenues, these apps can often provide important evidence in a divorce, child custody and family law cases.  Below is a description of some of the most popular photo and video sharing apps:

Snapchat is a photo messaging, social media tool. Unlike other services, Snapchat seeks to provide impermanence. Users can share photos, record video, and add text for distribution to one or more recipients. Those shares are set to self-destruct or disappear up to 10 seconds after sharing. The app also includes features which require the recipient to prove they are using their phone. Notice is also provided to the sender of any users taking a screenshot. Snapchat is billed as providing two-way communication of photos and videos without leaving any incriminating evidence. Recently, there have been weaknesses revealed as to Snap-chat's claims of destruction. Their own privacy policy acknowledges: "Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is received and opened by the recipient ... we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case ... Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user."

There are additional methods of preserving videos. For example, recipients can simply take a screenshot of the message, although this will notify the sender. Alternatively, recipients can take a picture of their phone, thereby circumventing the screenshot notification. Even then, a more complicated approach exists. Snapchat saves [videos] on the phone's local memory, on some phone models, which you can then recall by installing a file browser, and plugging the phone into a computer. You then search through the file browser, copy and save the content to a computer, and you're done. Indeed a May 9, 2013, Forbes article detailed that one forensic firm was able to pull many Snapchat photos from a phone long after they were supposedly deleted. Also, Snapchat has stated that if a file is not viewed it will remain on their servers for 30 days.

Instagram, now owned by Facebook, is another online photo-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take a picture, apply a digital filter to it and share it on a variety of social networking services, including Facebook. Unlike Snapchat, however, the data is stored on Facebook's servers and is not automatically deleted a few seconds after viewing. Access to the device should provide access, and materials that are deleted are likely recoverable by a forensic analyst. Further, one could subpoena Instagram, but one would likely face the same challenges one experiences when subpoenaing Facebook.

Vine is also a videosharing mechanism. Vine is a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables its users to create and post 6.5 second video clips. The service allows videos to be shared or embedded on social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook. Seemingly, more similar to Instagram than Snapchat, it would appear as though videos could be recovered both from the device and Vine's servers; although Twitter's website says deletion is permanent within a few minutes. Since the videos may be embedded in websites, the information might be recoverable from a personal computer by examining browser history as well. In addition, Twitter's website seems slightly more amendable to compliance with civil subpoenas than say Facebook. The website does mention that different types of data are retained on its servers for different amounts of time, thus again success depends upon rapidly securing the content.

If you are going though a divorce or family law matter, Stange Law Firm, PC can help.  You can contact us online or at 855-805-0595.