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Snapchat Faces UK Probe Over Claims It Failed To Protect Underage Users

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

[Edited] The UK's data regulator is currently gathering information on Snapchat to determine whether the popular instant messaging app is taking sufficient measures to remove underage users from its platform, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Credits: REUTERS

In March, Reuters reported exclusively that Snapchat's parent company, Snap Inc (SNAP.N), had only removed a few dozen children under the age of 13 from its platform in Britain last year, despite estimates from UK media regulator Ofcom suggesting that there are thousands of underage users on the app.

Under UK data protection law, social media companies are required to obtain parental consent before processing the data of children under the age of 13. While most social media platforms have an age restriction of 13 and above, they have struggled to effectively keep young children off their platforms.

Snapchat declined to provide details on any specific measures it has taken to reduce the number of underage users. However, a spokesperson for Snap stated, "We share the goals of the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) to ensure digital platforms are age-appropriate and support the duties set out in the Children's Code. We continue to have constructive conversations with them on the work we're doing to achieve this."

Before launching an official investigation, the ICO typically collects information related to the alleged breach. They may issue an information notice, which is a formal request for internal data that can aid in the investigation, before deciding whether to impose fines on the individual or organization being investigated.

Last year, Ofcom found that 60% of children between the ages of eight and 11 had at least one social media account, often created by providing a false date of birth. Ofcom also identified Snapchat as the most popular app among underage social media users.

Following the Reuters report, the ICO received several complaints from the public regarding Snap's handling of children's data, according to a source familiar with the matter. Some of the complaints specifically highlighted Snapchat's failure to prevent young children from accessing its platform.

The ICO has been in contact with users and other regulators to assess whether Snap has breached any regulations. An ICO spokesperson confirmed that they are monitoring and evaluating the approaches taken by Snap and other social media platforms to prevent underage children from accessing their services.

A decision on whether to launch a formal investigation into Snapchat is expected to be made in the coming months, according to the sources.

If the ICO finds Snap to be in breach of its rules, the company could face a fine of up to 4% of its annual global turnover. Based on a Reuters calculation, this could amount to $184 million, considering Snap's most recent financial results.

Snapchat, along with other social media platforms, is facing increasing pressure globally to improve content moderation on their platforms. The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Young Children) has expressed concern over the use of Snapchat by children under the age of 13, stating that the app accounted for 43% of cases involving the distribution of indecent images of children through social media.

Richard Collard, associate head of child safety online for the NSPCC, emphasized the need for stronger action to ensure young children are not using the platform and older children are protected from harm.

Earlier this year, the ICO fined TikTok £12.7 million ($16.2 million) for mishandling children's data, citing insufficient action to remove underage users. TikTok responded by stating that it has invested heavily in keeping under-13s off the platform and that its safety team works tirelessly to maintain a safe environment.

While Snapchat does block users who provide a date of birth indicating they are under 13, other apps take more proactive measures to prevent underage children from accessing their platforms. For instance, if an under-13-year-old fails to sign up for TikTok using their real date of birth, the app continues to block them from creating an account.

($1 = 0.7833 pounds)

  • The UK's data regulator is investigating Snapchat's efforts to remove underage users from its platform.

  • Snapchat's parent company, Snap Inc, had reportedly removed only a few dozen underage users in Britain last year.

  • Social media companies in the UK require parental consent before processing the data of children under 13.


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