Snapchat faces UK data watchdog probe over My AI

October 6, 2023
Snap AI

Snapchat is under scrutiny by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over potential privacy risks to children posed by its AI chatbot.

The ICO raised concerns about Snapchat’s “My AI” feature, warning that it might be shut down in the UK pending further review.

Snapchat’s “My AI” tool enables users to converse with a computer that emulates human interaction. Powering this feature is ChatGPT, a cutting-edge AI tool known for its realistic mimicry of human responses. 

A leading concern about “My AI” centers around its younger user base and whether they truly grasp the implications of data harvesting.

In the UK, Snapchat boasts 21 million users, a significant number of whom are minors. The ICO’s primary concern revolves around the privacy implications for users aged 13 to 17.

The AI drew unwanted attention when it suffered ‘an outage’ and posted a mysterious photo to millions of user’s stories. 

Once My AI came back online, it said, “The post was a ‘fun way to mix things up’” to calling it a “spooky ghost prank” that was “hilarious.”

Pressure mounting on Snap

Following a preliminary notice from the ICO, Snap responded by affirming its commitment to work collaboratively with the regulator. They also emphasized that a comprehensive legal and privacy assessment was conducted before launching the chatbot.

However, the ICO clarified that its current observations are inconclusive. 

The current notice serves as a reminder to Snap to ensure “My AI” complies with data protection standards, including the Children’s Design Code, which outlines 15 standards to protect children’s online data.

The ICO emphasized that if they issue a final enforcement notice, Snap could be restricted from offering the “My AI” feature to its UK user base until they undertake a satisfactory risk assessment.

Described by the company as “an experimental and friendly” chatbot, “My AI” is designed to act as a personal sidekick for each Snapchat user. Snap’s CEO Evan Spiegel says the feature witnesses over two million daily interactions. 

Since its release, Snapchat acknowledges that while the chatbot has evolved, it occasionally makes errors. The company advises users not to rely solely on the chatbot’s advice.

There are also rising concerns surrounding whether the bot can access private details, such as location data. However, Snapchat assures that location information is only accessed with the user’s consent.

John Edwards, the Information Commissioner, stated, “The provisional findings of our investigation suggest a worrying failure by Snap to adequately identify and assess the privacy risks to children and other users before launching My AI.” 

He further expressed the ICO’s commitment to safeguarding UK consumers’ privacy rights, highlighting the possibility of stringent actions against potential breaches.

In severe cases, the ICO can impose fines up to £17.5 million or 4% of a firm’s prior year’s global revenue, whichever is greater.

A spokesperson for Snap responded, “We are closely reviewing the ICO’s provisional decision. We are committed to protecting the privacy of our users. We will continue to work constructively with the ICO to ensure they’re comfortable with our risk assessment procedures.”

The next step will allow Snap to address the ICO’s concerns before making a final decision.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.

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