NEW YORK (MainStreet) Blunt question: does Snapchat - the Venice Beach messaging app that lets users distribute self destructing content (think sexting) - have a second act in mobile payments?
Know that Snapchat is feverishly rolling out new features such as Snapchat Stories that encourages users to "share their day."
The most recent show stopper: Snapchat now has applied for two patents that hint at its interest in powering mobile payments.
Also See: This Message Will Self-Destruct In...5, 4, 3...
So about that next act: the facts are that apparently Facebook recently offered $3 billion to buy the company, and before that Google was said to offer $4 billion. Both offers were rejected.
As for why the offers were made - and a hint at why Snapchat's founders think they have something better - feast on these numbers: some 400 million snaps are uploaded daily. 32% of U.S. teens use Snapchat on a mobile device. An estimated 50% of male college students use Snapchat. 23% of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. have a Snapchat account.
The numbers fuel Snapchat mania.
Then there is another, darker side to the story.
Also See: Photo Bomb 'Selfies' Lead to Plastic Surgery
In May, Snapchat entered into an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that would have obliterated most companies. Here's the nub of the FTC filing: "Snapchat, the developer of a popular mobile messaging app, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers with promises about the disappearing nature of messages sent through the service. The FTC case also alleged that the company deceived consumers over the amount of personal data it collected and the security measures taken to protect that data from misuse and unauthorized disclosure."
Although Snapchat built the company around a promise of vanishing, content, the messages did not always disappear. The FTC elaborated: "Recipients can use ...widely available third-party apps to view and save snaps indefinitely. Indeed, such third-party apps have been downloaded millions of times."
Also, even absent third party apps, recipients can take a screenshot of the content and save that. Snapchat now alerts senders that this has occurred - big help if the pic goes viral on Twitter -- and other users talk about using a camera to simply take a photo of the screen. Snapchat of course has no way to know that occurred.
Meanwhile, research out of the University of Washington's computer science department and Seattle Pacific University's math department, has found a shocking fact about Snapchat. People are not in fact using it to distribute fleeting sexting images, at least not very much. The researchers - Franziska Roesner, Brian T. Gill, and Tadayoshi Kohno -- wrote in their abstract: "We learn that most do not use Snapchat to send sensitive content (although up to 25% may do so experimentally), that taking screenshots is not generally a violation of the sender's trust but instead common and expected, that most respondents understand that messages can be recovered and that security and privacy concerns are overshadowed by other in¿uences on how and why respondents choose to use or not use Snapchat."
The researchers added: "Our survey results suggest that Snapchat's success is not due to its security properties but because users ¿nd Snapchat to be fun."
There you have it: Snapchat users use it because it is fun. Security be damned.
Now, about those payments patents; nobody knows what the company intends and it is not talking. Everybody from Facebook to tiny Des Moines-based payments innovator Dwolla is plunging headfirst into new ways to send money - to both friends and merchants. Said trends watcher Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute in New York, "Mobile payments are the next frontier in financial services. A lot of players are looking to get involved."
So is Snapchat all in? Not so fast.
"Are we sure Snaphat will do this?" said Sumit Mehra, chief technology officer at Redwood City, Calif.-based apps developer Y Media Labs. "No, we don't know they will enter payments. Apple files many patents that do not lead to products."
That caution aside, Mehra said, "My take is that, internally, they are thinking about payments. Probably transactional based mobile commerce. That could be huge."
Ben Katz, CEO of prepaid card company Card.com, added that payments via chat already are big business in Asia, a fact well known to giant Chinese investment company Tencent which owns a piece of Snapchat.
Katz elaborated: "Most chat companies have had trouble finding a business model. Snapchat is looking to monetize its user base. I think this is awesome."
Question: would you trust a company that didn't make images disappear, as promised, to keep your money from vanishing?
Snapchat users may have to personally answer exactly that question, sooner rather than later.
Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet