Once lauded for its innovative approach to social media, Snapchat is now under scrutiny in the United Kingdom. The United States instant messaging giant, owned by Snap Inc., has come under the watchful eye of the UK’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Concerns are rising over the app’s ability – or lack thereof – to effectively dissipate underage users from its platform. Insiders confirmed that the regulator is currently amassing information about Snapchat's policies to determine its compliance.
Snapchat, along with other social media platforms, is envisioned to be a space for teenagers and adults. Acknowledging the significance of protecting young minds, most platforms mandate a minimum age requirement of 13 years for users. However, ensuring this regulation's strict adherence has turned out to be a monumental challenge for these companies. Even on Snapchat, which reportedly eliminated only a few dozen under-13 accounts in Britain last year, the disparity between policies and practice seems stark.
The UK's data protection legislation makes it clear: companies are required to procure parental consent to process the data of kids below 13. But an investigation by UK media regulator Ofcom tells a different story. It found that more than half of the children aged between eight and eleven are active on at least one social media account, with the user's age often falsified. In the midst of these revelations, Snapchat has chosen to remain reticent regarding any actions it might have instigated to curb the infiltration of underage users.
Snap Inc., on its part, has maintained a steady dialogue with the ICO. A spokesperson from the company confirmed their shared objective with the ICO of ensuring that digital platforms are appropriate for all age groups and abide by the Children’s Code. Looking ahead, the ICO might decide to issue an information notice. This would entail a formal request for internal data pertinent to the allegations, which would subsequently aid in their investigation. Given the potential severity of the situation, a formal investigation into Snapchat is conceivable in the coming months.
The ICO's current actions could result in large fines for Snapchat should they find the company to be in violation of their rules. The fine could be as high as 4% of the company's annual worldwide turnover. For Snapchat, that could result in as much as $184 million USD. More importantly, this incident underlines the mounting global pressure on social media behemoths to be more diligent and responsible in curating their content, particularly in safeguarding the younger demographic. Nevertheless, it serves as a stark reminder that innovation is not solely about advancement in technology but, fundamentally, about creating safe spaces for the global digital community.