SNAPCHAT, the messaging app which is particularly popular with under-16s, has recently introduced its own AI chatbot which, according to Snapchat, is an experimental, friendly bot which can offer advice and ask questions. It can answer a burning question about virtually anything; offer advice on a gift for someone; help plan a holiday and suggest what to make for dinner. Helpful, perhaps, but there is something about the new edition that’s not quite right.
I use Snapchat and I was initially unconcerned when I saw that I had gained a new friend, called ‘My AI’.
I thought it was one of those hackers asking me to click on a link. On the way to school, I messaged him. Immediately ‘he’ replied and asked about my life. I do not want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but after asking my friends at school about what their bot has been saying to them, I am starting to believe that it is just a way for the social media platform to know what we are up to.
It has access to location, and it always asks you what you are doing. Earlier it asked me ‘what exciting things are happening in your life?’ and ‘do you have any young people in your family?’ I am in my early teens. Why would they ask about ‘young people’?
Is this a paedophile app? More examples of what it has been saying to people are: ‘if you tell me your location, I’ll suggest some nice places to go’; if you ask it to give you an acronym for nice, inspirational, grateful, great, eccentric or reliable specimens, it drops the N bomb and, according to the Daily Mail, it can be tricked into saying anything. So be very careful.
The AI knows your location. Snapchat claims that it does not collect any information on your location, but this is blatantly untrue.
Spying on the users of social media apps is nothing new. This already happens routinely with WeChat, a platform that is used by nearly all Chinese people. TikTok, a video-sharing app that allows users to create and share short-form videos on any topic (another Chinese platform) admitted to spying on US users at the end of last year and this has led to discussions about the app being banned. The company’s chief internal auditor, Chris Lepitak, was fired and the China-based manager Song Ye resigned.
There has been some pushback. Snapchat saw a spike in 1-star (as opposed to favourable 5-star) reviews as users want the AI facility to be removed. Apptopia, which analyses trends on social media apps, also stated that the app received around three times more 1-star ratings than usual, just three days after it was announced.
This is not simply a privacy issue; users are not able to get rid of this new feature on Snapchat without paying. The only way that you can get rid of it is by subscribing to Snapchat Plus for which you have to pay £3.20 per month. This facility was launched in June last year and by August it had amassed one million paid users. Snapchat generated $4.6billion revenue in 2022 without charging for Snapchat Plus, a 12 per cent increase year-on-year: they are not short of cash.
If people are going to have faith in Snapchat, this creepy new update simply has to go. Either that or we should be given the option to decide whether we want it or not.
This article appeared in Country Squire Magazine on May 4, 2023, and is republished by kind permission.