Digital Life

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'Safe sexting' apps criticised

Teenagers are "sexting" using apps they think will protect their pictures, but which experts have warned are riddled with security flaws.

The flaws have been discovered in apps such as Snapchat and Facebook Poke, used by many for sexting because they automatically delete images after one to 10 seconds and notify users if recipients take screen shots.

But experts say "safe sexting" is impossible. Other security flaws in the apps include the ability for receivers to upload photos onto their computer before opening them. Snapchat itself has also been found to expose a user's email address without their knowledge in the past.

The latest glitch was revealed by a hacker who demonstrated Snapchat screenshots could be taken without notifying the sender.

The commander of the NSW Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, said teens and adults should think twice about sending a sexually explicit message.


"Once that image appears on a screen, a screen shot can be taken and distributed anywhere, and can last forever," he said.

Detective Kerlatec said people who used the apps could face criminal charges.

"It can [damage] job prospects and make you suffer the consequences down the track," he said. "Secondly, sending, receiving or passing on under-age sexual images can lead to a jail sentence between seven and 15 years."

Director of Cybersafe Solutions, Susan McLean, also warned against the use of "safe sexting" apps. She said she believed it was only a matter of time before security flaws showed up. "A lot of teenagers are sending sexy images believing that no one will see them."

The apps lulled people into "a false sense of security" with publicity saying the images will disappear.

"But of course, that's not the case. There is no such thing as privacy on the internet – there is security, and you can give yourself different levels of security," Ms McLean said.

Nina Funnell, a Sydney technology commentator, has created an app called "Sizzle", which has been criticised for encouraging teens to believe they can sext securely.

Ms Funnell said she believed it was important to disentangle legal and safety concerns from the broader moral hang-ups that some people have about nudity.

"There are considerable concerns around the safety of the apps, and there's no 100 per cent safety guarantee, but it's important to think about developing solutions to the problems," she said.

"Apps like Snapchat and Sizzle are very much in their infancy. Sizzle isn't a solution, but stimulating thought about what else could be done is important. Highlighting a shift in technology and a new generation, let's think about how do we exclude and maintain privacy," Ms Funnell said.