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UK data watchdog investigates Snapchat over AI privacy concerns

Written by Wed 11 Oct 2023

The owner of Snapchat, Snap Inc, failed to ‘adequately identify and assess the risks’ for millions of UK users accessing its AI chatbot, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Snap Inc could face a fine of more than a million pounds after the ICO alleged that the social media app’s owner did not assess privacy risks relating to its artificial intelligence chatbot known as My AI.

Information Commissioner, John Edwards, said the ICO has been clear that organisations must consider the risks associated with AI, alongside the benefits.

“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’,” said Edwards.

The UK data watchdog issued a preliminary enforcement notice as a result of the allegations.

The preliminary notice outlined the potential actions the Commissioner may take, depending on Snap’s response.

“Today’s preliminary enforcement notice shows we will take action in order to protect UK consumers’ privacy rights,” added Edwards.

No conclusion is expected to be drawn or enforcement notice issued in this preliminary stage, as any breach of data protection law is yet to be determined.

If a final enforcement notice is issued, Snap may be required to stop processing data in connection with ‘My AI’. This means Snap’s ‘My AI’ product will not be offered to UK users until Snap carries out an ‘adequate’ risk assessment.

In February 2023, Snap launched the ‘My AI’ feature for UK Snapchat+ subscribers. Roll out to its wider Snapchat user base began in the UK in April 2023. In May 2023, Snapchat had amassed 21 million monthly active users in the UK.

Powered by OpenAI’s GPT technology, the chatbot feature represented the first instance of generative AI integrated into a major social media platform in the UK. 

The ICO released advice for developers of generative AI on the issues they must consider in considering data protection from the outset. The regulator stated they will continue to scrutinise the compliance of products and services introduced to market.

The notice served to Snap arrived a month after the Online Safety Bill passed its final Parliamentary debate, which brought the Government closer to implementing robust child protection laws.

The Bill adopts a zero-tolerance stance to protecting children and holds social media platforms accountable for the content they host. Echoing the ICO’s advice, the Bill urges Tech companies to seize the opportunity to embrace safety by design.

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Written by Wed 11 Oct 2023

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