With smartphones approaching near-ubiquity, people must learn to behave in public and watch everything they say and do. You never know when your inappropriate actions could be captured for posterity.

But what about if you’re happy to circulate, say, images of yourself for a short period of time on the condition that all recipients delete the snaps upon you command? Well, that would likely never work, which is where Snapchat could come in handy.

Snapchat is a free iOS app, primarily aimed at those wishing to participate in real-time picture chats. This is all very innocent on the surface, but a quick peek at the app’s stock images on the App Store reveal what many people may want to use it for, sharing flirty or other risque content. But we all know what can happen if we upload images into the digital realm. They can have a tendency to find their way permanently onto social networks and other public forums for all the world to see.

This is why Snapchat has built an interesting feature into the very fabric of the app…you control how long your friends can view a picture for. When you take a snap, you simply set the timer for up to ten seconds and hit ‘send’.

a2 520x380 Snapchat for iOS lets you send photos to friends and set how long they’re visible for

You can select which of the contacts on your iPhone to send the image to, and the recipient is asked to press and hold to view the image which will then display for the preset period of time.

b4 520x379 Snapchat for iOS lets you send photos to friends and set how long they’re visible for
Now, you’re likely thinking ‘but what about screenshots’? Well, if the recipient tries to take a screenshot, you will be notified by the app if this happens. There are other ways round it too, if you’re fast enough. You could take a photo of the photo using another device, but the quality won’t be very good and you would have to be quick off the mark.

So, it’s far from flawless, but Snapchat certainly provides some decent first-stage friction to prevent ‘private’ images from becoming truly public.

As Michael Fertik, chief executive of Reputation.com, says in the New York Times today, this extra hurdle could make all the difference for those looking to retain a little more digital privacy. “We know that friction is a very powerful tool to deter people from taking things that are meant to be private and sharing them,” he said. “It’s probably impossible to completely deter people, but adding friction in a second-to-second environment — like sexting — can be very powerful.”

Snapchat