What Snapchat Saves: Downloading My Snapchat Data

As a college student with a penchant for procrastination, I’m on Snapchat a lot.

According to Business of Apps, I’m not the only one mildly addicted to Snapchat. It’s one of the most popular social media platforms in America. CNBC reported in 2018 that Snapchat users were spending more time on the app than younger Instagram users were spending on Instagram and were sending around 34 messages per day on average. The social media platform is known for the disappearing and ephemeral nature of its messaging and photo sharing.

But Snapchat also saves quite a lot. At least some of this data is available for download. Which is exactly what I did, and it was a revelation.

The process of downloading the data was not exactly intuitive. So, I began by watching this video and was able to eventually find and download my data. Snapchat also has instructions on how to do this.

Like many people, I check the terms and conditions box without reading all the terms and conditions, and although I can find my way around the major social media platforms, throw a line of code at me and I’m lost. So, I learned a lot from sifting through my own data from a social media platform I use every day.

Here are my biggest take-aways from downloading my Snapchat data:

  1. I learned that just because you turn off location services for the app, doesn’t mean Snapchat doesn’t have a basic idea of where you are based on your IP address. I was shocked to see when I downloaded my data that Snapchat had a pretty good idea of the three cities I frequent most.
  2. I was shocked by how little I understood about how apps, cookies and online privacy work. I needed my computer science major friend to help me wrap my mind around some of the data that I saw and explain to me how it got there.
  3. My friend pointed me towards the Snapchat privacy policy and I was curious. Had I really agreed to all this data collection? I went ahead and read the entire Snapchat privacy policy, and I didn’t find any glaring irregularities. I had simply agreed to a lot. In fact, since opening an account I had agreed to four different privacy policy versions, the latest in December of 2019.  
  4. Some stored information was hilarious. For instance, according to Snapchat, categories I’m interested in include: health clubs and stores like Weight Watchers and frozen pizza. Not going to lie, Snapchat has got me nailed.

When I asked friends (over Snapchat of course) what they thought of this downloadable Snapchat data, I got mixed reactions. Most people were curious to learn more about exactly what kind of information was saved. One of my friends quickly downloaded the data for herself. My roommate thought it was interesting but pointed out that it is important to remember that information put online or on social media is usually saved in some way. A friend from study abroad told me that she wishes she felt more upset after learning about this, but she doesn’t. She knows that she gives Snapchat a lot of permission to access her data when she agrees to the terms and conditions of the app.

That was the biggest takeaway from this experience. In the daily bustle of everyday life, how aware am I of the permissions I’ve given the apps I use daily? How aware are you? If you don’t like your answer to this question, it might be worth downloading your Snapchat data and taking a peek. You could be surprised by what you find.