Snapcash is the new currency for Snapchat porn

Is Snapchat's new money-sending feature a good thing for sex and tech? Well, yes and no.

Mar 1, 2020, 4:32 pm*

Tech

EJ Dickson 

EJ Dickson

One of the harsh truths about Silicon Valley is that while the sex industry is enormously lucrative, it’s ghettoized to the point where it’s totally separate from the tech world at large. While sex tech startups and sex workers live in the same universe as the rest of Silicon Valley, they never come into direct contact with its major players, ostracized just outside of the tech mainstream.

But the gap is being gently bridged thanks to  Snapchat’s launch of Snapcash, its new money-sending service. Created in partnership with Square, Snapcash will allow users to pay each other via Snapchat by entering their bank account information into Square Cash’s servers. All you have to do to pay another user is send the amount in a private message, sort of like Venmo meets… well, Snapchat, I guess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBwjxBmMszQ

When Snapcash was released earlier this week, some tech journalists speculated whether it signified Snapchat’s impending shift into the consumer marketplace, or if Snapchat users would feel safe enough to share their banking information with the company, given its history of security issues. But few focused on what to many seemed like an obvious question: whether Snapcash would end up becoming a way to monetize porn.

It’s an obvious question in part because Snapchat is extremely popular with Internet sex workers, such as adult performers and cam girls. Because there are no restrictions on NSFW content on Snapchat, the way there are on other social media platforms like Instagram and Vine, Snapchat is a no-holds-barred venue for adult performers to directly connect with their fans. And there’s a huge demand for porn star and cam girl Snapchats, to the point where there are forum threads with names like “Snapchat Sluts” devoted to fans sharing performers’ Snapchat usernames.

For its part, Snapchat doesn’t seem too interested in acknowledging that a solid portion of its user base is made up of people in the sex industry; just like the tech world at large.

When the Daily Dot reached out to see if the company was interested in commenting on Snapcash being used by adult performers, Snapchat spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker sent back the following statement: “This is covered in our Snapcash guidelines and our TOU, which states that users cannot buy, sell, rent, lease, or otherwise offer in exchange for any compensation, access to your Snapchat account, Stories, Snaps, a Snapchat username, or a friend link without Snapchat’s prior written consent.”

 “If you’re able to take 15 seconds to send nude Snapchats to a 1,000+ fans for $1 a pop, doesn’t that seem like less of a hassle than scheduling live shows and far less dangerous than escorting?” 

But of course, just because a commercial market for porn is prohibited in the Snapcash guidelines doesn’t mean that users are going to abide by them, and “there’s obviously a market for people to connect with their favorite adult stars via social media,” particularly via an ephemeral messaging service like Snapchat, says Chico Dusty, who runs the website Sex.com (NSFW).

Considering how much porn piracy has eaten into performers’ salaries, it’s become even more important for performers to supplement their incomes in other ways by monetizing their social media presence. “If you’re able to take 15 seconds to send nude Snapchats to a 1,000+ fans for $1 a pop, doesn’t that seem like less of a hassle than scheduling live shows and far less dangerous than escorting?” says Dusty.

Using Snapchat and Snapchat-esque services like Snapgirlz (NSFW), which enable fans to subscribe to performers’ Snapchat photos, performers are able to monetize their social media presence. A service like Snapcash would allow them to cut out the middleman and directly make money from their fans.

The hugely popular cam performer LittleRedBunny, who does not use Snapchat, says Snapcash seems like a good option for performers because it goes directly to their bank accounts, which doesn’t limit the way they use the payment. However, she says that going through a third party like Snapcash is risky from a performer perspective, as performers often have to deal with fans canceling transactions immediately after payment, which happens frequently on Paypal and other money transfer services. Ultimately, she thinks Snapcash is “a bit too new” for her to put much faith in it. “While being able to accept a wide array of payment methods is a plus for many cam girls, I think proven security is even more important,” she says.

It’s this security concern that’s particularly daunting, especially in the wake of the Snappening, when hackers uploaded thousands of Snapchat photos onto the Internet. Although Snapchat had previously insisted that photos disappear into the ether after you send them, the Snappening proved once and for all that that was not the case. Snapchat also collects a great deal of user data, as evidenced by the leak of Snapchat users’ personal information, such as user names and phone numbers, last year.

Snapchat’s security issues are particularly daunting for sex workers and cam performers like LittleRedBunny, who, due to the stigmatized and taboo nature of their profession, are particularly vulnerable to stalkers and creepsters, and have a vested interest in keeping their private information private. As Victoria Joy of the sex worker blog Tits and Sass wrote in a blog post last June:

For sex workers, the appeal of using Snapchat instead of sending photos to customers directly is because of the perceived barrier of protection between us and our customers. We can connect accounts without sharing personal information like phone numbers, and we don’t have to worry about customers stealing our images and reposting them for profit on adult sites, because recipients can’t take screenshots of our images. As it turns out, everything we thought we knew about Snapchat as cam performers is wrong. We were granted none of these protections.

Aside from the potential leak of personal information, Snapchat also has a fairly well-documented underage pornography problem, as evidenced by the leak of teen nude photos and Daily Dot editor Cooper Fleishman’s investigation of Snapchat’s child porn trading ring via Stories, the feature that allows Snapchat users to turn Snapchats into extended photo and video narratives.

Snapcash uses some methods to screen for underage users—for instance, in order to use the service, you have to provide your full name, date of birth, and social security number through Square to verify your identity. But given that Snapchat itself doesn’t have any reliable methods for preventing underage users from sharing NSFW selfies, it’s possible—even likely—that someone will figure out how to use Snapcash as a way to monetize underage nudes.

“I don’t think Snapcash is a totally dangerous idea. In fact, in regards to the adult industry, I think services like this can be a great tool for performers and their fans,” Jen McEwen of the sex tech company MiKandi told me. “The problem is that Snapchat chooses not to or can’t openly support sexual communication, so it turns a blind eye and it goes on unchecked. As a result, they have underage users sharing nudes on the platform, sometimes with each other and sometimes with adults. Throwing a financial incentive into the mix may only exacerbate their existing underage sexting issue.”

If its statement on Snapcash being used to monetize porn is any indication, it seems Snapchat is firmly sticking to its party line that nobody ever uses Snapchat to send a naughty photo. (Although to be fair, they’re not totally wrong: Back in July, a study concluded that the vast majority of images sent via Snapchat are cat photos and selfies, not porn.)

But while user security and the possibility of Snapcash being used to send child pornography might not be of much concern to Snapchat itself, it is for the members of the adult industry who’ll be using its new service. And for the time being, some of them remain unimpressed. “I feel that security should be Snapchat’s first priority if they expect anyone to actually use it,” says Dusty. “However, I haven’t seen anything advertising better security. Just a song and dance number on YouTube.”

Photo by Dollen/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

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*First Published: Nov 21, 2014, 11:30 am