UK data watchdog issues Snapchat with enforcement notice over AI chatbot

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Snapchat owner Snap Inc could face a huge fine after the UK data watchdog, the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office), issued it with a preliminary enforcement notice over its alleged failure to assess privacy risks posed by its ‘My AI’ artificial intelligence chatbot.

The preliminary notice sets out the steps which the Commissioner may require, subject to Snap’s representations on the preliminary notice. If a final enforcement notice were to be adopted, Snap may be required to stop processing data in connection with ‘My AI’. This means that the ‘My AI’ product couldn’t be provided to UK users pending Snap carrying out an adequate risk assessment.

Snap launched the ‘My AI’ feature for UK Snapchat+ subscribers in February 2023, with a roll out to its wider Snapchat user base in the UK in April 2023. The chatbot feature, powered by OpenAI’s GPT technology, marked the first example of generative AI embedded into a major messaging platform in the UK. As at May 2023 Snapchat had 21 million monthly active users in the UK.

The ICO’s investigation provisionally found the risk assessment Snap conducted before it launched ‘My AI’ did not adequately assess the data protection risks posed by the generative AI technology, particularly to children. The assessment of data protection risk is particularly important in this context which involves the use of innovative technology and the processing of personal data of 13 to 17-year-old children.

Says John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner:

“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’.

“We have been clear that organisations must consider the risks associated with AI, alongside the benefits. Today’s preliminary enforcement notice shows we will take action in order to protect UK consumers’ privacy rights”.

The issue of this preliminary enforcement notice follows an ICO reminder to companies developing or using generative AI that they should be considering their data protection obligations from the outset.

The ICO has issued advice to developers and users of generative AI on the issues that they must consider and will continue to scrutinise the compliance of products and services introduced to market.

Chris Price
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