In an ongoing development, Britain’s regulatory body overseeing data protection is actively collecting information about Snapchat, the popular U.S.-based instant messaging app, with the intention of determining whether the platform is taking adequate measures to remove underage users. Two individuals familiar with the matter have revealed that this investigation stems from concerns about Snapchat’s efforts to ensure the exclusion of users below the legally mandated age limit.
In March, a Reuters report unveiled that Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, had managed to remove only a handful of users under the age of 13 from its British platform in the preceding year. This number starkly contrasts with estimates from UK media regulator Ofcom, which suggests that Snapchat may harbor thousands of underage users. This situation is particularly significant due to the stringent regulations set forth by UK data protection laws, which mandate that social media companies must obtain parental consent before processing the data of children below the age of 13. While these platforms generally establish a minimum user age of 13, their success in restricting access for younger users has been inconsistent at best.
Notably, Snapchat has refrained from disclosing specific measures it might have undertaken to address the issue of underage users on its platform. However, a spokesperson from Snap Inc. acknowledged their alignment with the goals of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in ensuring age-appropriate digital environments and adhering to the guidelines outlined in the Children’s Code. The spokesperson further stated their ongoing engagement in constructive dialogues with the ICO, discussing the initiatives they have undertaken to achieve these objectives.
The ICO typically engages in an information-gathering phase before initiating a formal investigation. This phase often involves issuing information notices, and formal requests for internal data that could assist in the investigation process. The ICO then evaluates the gathered information to determine whether any fines or penalties are warranted. This precedes any potential fine for the organization under investigation.
In the backdrop of these developments, recent findings from Ofcom uncovered that a significant percentage of children aged between eight and 11 possessed at least one social media account, often facilitated by providing inaccurate birthdate information. Among these platforms, Snapchat emerged as the most widely used by underage social media users. Subsequently, following the Reuters report, the ICO reportedly received a multitude of complaints from the public concerning Snap’s handling of children’s data.
The ICO has undertaken a comprehensive assessment involving interactions with users and other relevant regulatory bodies to ascertain whether Snap has breached any regulations. An ICO spokesperson reiterated their commitment to monitoring and evaluating the strategies adopted by Snapchat and other social media platforms to prevent unauthorized access by underage individuals.
As the situation unfolds, the ICO is expected to make a decision in the forthcoming months regarding whether a formal investigation into Snapchat’s practices is warranted. If found in violation of regulations, Snap Inc. could potentially face fines up to 4% of its annual global turnover, estimated to be around $184 million based on recent financial data.
This scrutiny on Snapchat’s practices is part of a broader global push for social media platforms to enhance content moderation and user protection. The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Young Children) highlighted that Snapchat accounted for a substantial portion of cases involving the distribution of indecent images of minors through social media. Despite these concerns, Snapchat has not provided any official response to this matter as reported by Reuters.
In a related context, earlier this year, TikTok, a notable competitor to Snapchat, was fined by the ICO for misuse of children’s data. TikTok was accused of insufficient action to remove underage users. In response, a TikTok representative stressed their substantial investments in deterring under-13 users and their continuous efforts to maintain platform safety through a sizable safety team.
Snapchat does currently implement certain age restrictions, blocking users attempting to register with a birthdate indicating they are under 13. However, other platforms have taken more proactive steps to prevent unauthorized access by underage individuals. For instance, TikTok continues to block registration attempts from individuals who repeatedly provide inaccurate birthdate information, even if they are under 13.
the regulatory spotlight on Snapchat’s handling of underage users is intensifying, with the ICO gathering information to determine if the platform’s efforts align with legal requirements. The implications of this investigation could have far-reaching consequences for Snap Inc., including potential fines and a renewed focus on improving the platform’s age verification mechanisms and user safety protocols.