The UK data watchdog is looking into how well Snapchat is handling the removal of underage users from its platform.
In March, Reuters disclosed that Snap, the owner of Snapchat, only removed around 700 users under 13 from its platform in the UK the previous year. Meanwhile, UK’s media regulator Ofcom estimates that there are thousands of underage users.
According to UK data protection rules, social media companies must obtain parental approval before handling data from kids below 13 years old. While these platforms usually set a minimum age of 13, they have struggled to prevent younger users from joining. Snapchat has chosen not to disclose any steps it might have implemented to lower the count of underage users.
“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,” a Snap spokesperson stated.
“We continue to have constructive conversations with them on the work we’re doing to achieve this,” they also added.
Before starting a formal inquiry, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) usually collects details about a reported violation. It might send out an information notice, which is a proper ask for internal data that could help with the investigation. After that, a decision is made on whether to penalize the person or group under scrutiny.
In the previous year, Ofcom discovered that 60% of kids aged eight to eleven had a social media account, often by using a wrong birthdate. Snapchat and TikTok grow in popularity among UK children, they also revealed in a report earlier this year.
Following the Reuters report, there were several public complaints to the ICO about how Snap managed children’s data, as shared by an informed source.
A source mentioned that certain complaints were about Snapchat not sufficiently preventing young kids from using its platform. The ICO has talked to users and other authorities to check if Snap has broken any rules. A spokesperson from the ICO informed Reuters that they’re still observing and evaluating the steps Snap and other social media sites are taking to stop underage kids from using their platforms.
The sources indicated that a choice about whether to start a proper inquiry into Snapchat will be reached in the next few months.
If the ICO discovers Snap has broken its rules, the company might face a fine of up to 4% of its yearly global earnings. That could mean about $184 million, according to Reuters’ calculations based on the latest financial results. Social media platforms like Snapchat are being urged worldwide to improve content oversight.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Young Children (NSPCC) revealed data showing Snapchat was involved in 43% of cases where indecent images of kids were shared through social media. Snapchat didn’t respond to this report from Reuters earlier.
While Snapchat blocked users with under-13 birth dates, some apps use stricter methods. For example, TikTok keeps under-13 year-olds from signing up even if they provide fake birth dates.
However, recently ICO fined TikTok for misusing children’s data.