A group of anonymous Indian hackers has leaked a database of 1.7 million Snapchat users to the web. The hackers decided to carry out the leak as a direct response to comments allegedly made by Snapchat’s CEO, Evan Speigel. It is claimed that Speigel said he wasn’t interested in expanding the highly popular photo-sharing app into “poor countries” like India and Spain. What is confusing is that the app is already available in both of those countries, leaving many people scratching their heads as to the authenticity of the comment.
According to the Indian hackers, they stole the data during a cyberattack that was carried out last year. The anonymous hackers said that they discovered a vulnerability in Snapchat’s systems, which allowed them to steal the database of about 1.7 million of its users.
Despite widespread fury at Speigel’s alleged remarks, there is little evidence that he actually made the comments. The scandal first broke in a report from Variety, which claimed that a former Snapchat employee had come forward with the startling revelation. The problem is that the ex-employee, Anthony Pompliano, has made his claims during the course of a lawsuit, and so far a verdict has not been delivered.
For Rich People
Pompliano claims that, back in 2015, he expressed concern that the popular app wasn’t taking off overseas. After suggesting some ideas to help promote growth in other parts of the world, Pompliano claims he was shot down. The former Facebook and Snapchat employee alleges that Speigel said Snapchat “was only for rich people,” before abruptly leaving the meeting.
Despite the fact that the lawsuit is still in progress – and that Pompliano’s statements have yet to be formally validated – a number of Indian media outlets have run with the story. In those articles, the comments were attributed directly to the Snapchat CEO, without mention of the legal gray area. It would appear that those stories have stirred the anonymous Indian hackers into seeking retribution for the (possibly false) affront on their nation.
Snapchat has denied that Speigel ever said that he didn’t want to “expand into poor countries like India and Spain.” In addition, Snapchat is denying that anybody has penetrated its systems. This, however, has done little to stop the spread of fury in India, where a massive Twitter campaign has gone viral, calling for people to ditch the app. The Twitter campaign is called #boycottSnapchat and has proved massively popular all over the world.
Snapchat has sprung into action in an attempt to rectify the dire situation. A spokesperson for the company commented that Pompliano was fired “for poor performance” before adding:
“This is ridiculous. Obviously, Snapchat is for everyone. It’s available worldwide to download for free. Those words were written by a disgruntled former employee. We are grateful for our Snapchat community in India and around the world.”
Unfortunately for Snapchat, however, the statements have largely fallen on deaf ears, with a huge chunk of its four million Indian users deciding to boycott the $25 billion app. Nor is it just in India that the bad press has led to negative consequences for Snapchat. The star rating for the app has dropped to just one star, proving that consumers from around the world are shocked by the allegations.
Pompliano claims that he was fired because he discovered that Snapchat had been lying about key metrics, including daily active users (DAU). John Pierce, Pompliano’s attorney, has commented:
“This attempt to save face by Snap [Snapchat’s parent company] should serve as a reminder that no matter how big you are (or how many billions of dollars you have) in our system everyone has to play by the same set of rules.”
Snapchat’s lawyers, however, are refusing to budge on their rebuttal of the allegations, saying:
“The simple fact is that he [Pompliano] knows exactly nothing about Snap’s current metrics. He and his lawyers are — not to put too fine a point on matters — just making things up.”
Follow the Crumbs
Personally, I am a highly skeptical person. I prescribe to Carl Sagan’s famous adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I’ve never met a CEO who didn’t want to make more money. India and Spain are huge markets, and one would have to be crazy not to appreciate the vast potential for revenue that those markets hold.
It is true that Snapchat has previously commented (within Securities and Exchange Commission filings) that the app is unlikely to take off in locations that don’t have ready access to fast internet and higher-end smartphones. Some might take that as further evidence that Speigel really did say these things, but that would be rather naive.
Land of Opportunity
India is massive, and in 2016 it saw unprecedented levels of smartphone uptake, according to Counterpoint Research. Add to that the fact that Indian firms like Micromax are manufacturing own-brand smartphones, and you start to get the picture. India has a population of over 1.2 billion people. While only 120 million had a smartphone in 2014, around 900 million also had a smartphone subscription.
The numbers indicate that India is a goldmine waiting to be plundered. It is hard to believe that Snapchat doesn’t want a bite of that pie. When it comes to tech startups, money is the name of the game, and expansion into new markets is a key objective.
For now, we will have to wait for the verdict of the Los Angeles court. However, one thing is for sure, if Evan Speigel did say those things, then he is definitely missing a few slices from his loaf.
Opinions are the writer’s own.
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