What Really Happens to Your Deleted Internet Messages and Photos

It's not that easy to erase things from the Internet.

ByABC News
May 9, 2014, 12:54 PM

May 9, 2014— -- You send a private photo to a friend who views it for a few seconds before it disappears forever, right?


Even after Snapchat admitted photos sent using the popular app don’t evaporate into the ether after all, experts say users still don’t grasp how difficult is it to entirely erase something from the Internet.

Snapchat Settles With FTC Over Claims it Deceived Users

"It looks like it's gone," security expert Nico Sell told ABC News. "If you don't understand the underlying technology of the Internet, and aren't thinking about what is going on behind the scenes, it looks like it disappeared."

But most of the time, your "deleted" Instagram snaps or Facebook posts -- or possibly Snapchats -- are still lurking on a server somewhere, said Sell, founder of another private messaging app, Wickr.

"Even when something is deleted from a device or a computer, it doesn't completely delete," she explained. "Your SMS - if you were to delete a text, I could still get it off the phone. It's in the trash."

Snapchat agreed to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday that it deceived users about how private their photos really were. The company admitted that there were roundabout ways users could save a friend’s photo -- which is supposed to “self-destruct” about a few seconds -- by downloading third-party apps or taking screenshots.

The FTC also accused Snapchat of secretly collecting private information from users through its "Find Friends" feature, which accesses contact information.

Snapchat said it would be more forthcoming about privacy with users.

The company says it deletes "snaps" from its servers after the message is opened, but admits people can still take screenshots of messages.

When that happens, Snapchat sends the sender a notification.