UK regulator says Snap’s AI chatbot may put kids’ privacy at risk

The ICO could block My AI in the UK if the company doesn't sufficiently address privacy concerns.

Dado Ruvic / reuters

A UK regulator has raised concerns that Snap’s AI chatbot may be putting the privacy of kids at risk. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s privacy watchdog, issued a preliminary enforcement notice against the company over a “potential failure to properly assess the privacy risks posed by its generative AI chatbot ‘My AI’.”

Information Commissioner John Edwards said the ICO’s provisional findings from its investigation indicated a “worrying failure by Snap to adequately identify and assess the privacy risks to children and other users” before rolling out My AI. The ICO noted that if Snap fails to sufficiently address its concerns, it may block the ChatGPT-powered chatbot in the UK.

However, the preliminary notice doesn’t necessarily mean that the ICO will take action against Snap or that the company has violated data protection laws. It will consider submissions from Snap before it makes a final decision.

"My AI went through a robust legal and privacy review process before being made publicly available," a Snap spokesperson told Reuters. "We will continue to work constructively with the ICO to ensure they're comfortable with our risk assessment procedures."

The ICO says that, as of May, Snapchat had 21 million monthly active users in the UK, with many of those aged between 13 and 17. The regulator pointed out that My AI marked the first instance of a generative AI system being added to a major messaging platform in the country. The feature debuted for Snapchat+ subscribers in February, then Snap enabled it for all UK users in April.

Soon after Snap rolled out the chatbot, parents raised concerns about My AI, and not only over privacy considerations. “I don’t think I’m prepared to know how to teach my kid how to emotionally separate humans and machines when they essentially look the same from her point of view,” a mother of a 13-year-old told CNN in April. “I just think there is a really clear line [Snapchat] is crossing.”

The ICO has issued hefty fines against social media platforms in the past for mishandling kids' data. It slapped TikTok with a £12.7 million ($15.8 million) penalty earlier this year after determining the platform breached data protection laws, including over its handling of kids' personal information.