Privacy concerns around Snapchat's My AI chatbot feature

Snapchat’s My AI chatbot is marketed to users as the kind of undemanding, yet helpful, friend we all might like to know. It will readily answer questions put to it, but these answers are also relayed to Snap HQ, where the data can be used for targeted advertising.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is worried about the bot’s threat to privacy, as are many others. In this article, we find out just how bad the Snapchat AI chatbot really is.

What is My AI?

My AI is a chatbot powered by the latest version of OpenAI’s GPT technology. The idea behind it, says Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel, is that “in addition to talking to our friends and family every day, we’re going to talk to AI every day”. To ensure this happens, the bot is pinned to the top of users’ Chat feed – and cannot be removed unless they pay for a Snapchat+ subscription.

The bot itself is represented as a purple-skinned character that Snap says, “can answer a burning trivia question, offer advice on the perfect gift for your BFF’s birthday, help plan a hiking trip for a long weekend, or suggest what to make for dinner”.

However, Snap also says that its responses might include “biased, incorrect, harmful, or misleading content”. Indeed, days after the feature launched in February 2023, a Washington Post journalist reported that the bot would talk about drugs, sex, and alcohol to underage users.

By April 2023, Snap had launched new tools – such as an age filter – designed to ensure the bot created appropriate responses. It began showing users an “onboarding message that makes clear that all messages with My AI will be retained unless you delete them”.

Unlike other conversations generated in Snapchat – which are automatically deleted from Snap’s servers after they’ve been viewed or have expired – those carried out with the bot are retained. Users must delete them manually, which we’ll tell you how to do now before we get any further.

How to delete My AI data in Snapchat

Do the following to remove your conversation data from Snapchat servers:

To delete recent content shared with My AI in the last 24 hours:

  1. Long-press the message in your Chat with My AI
  2. Tap ‘Delete’

To delete all past content shared with My AI:

In iOS:

  1. Tap your Profile icon and tap the gear icon to go to Settings
  2. Scroll down to “Privacy Controls”
  3. Tap “Clear Data”
  4. Tap “Clear My AI Data” and confirm

In Android:

  1. Tap your Profile icon and tap the gear icon to go to Settings
  2. Scroll down to “Account Actions”
  3. Tap “Clear My AI Data,” and confirm

Why is Snap storing My AI data?

Data, as you’re no doubt aware, is a precious commodity. And while Snap claims in one breath that it uses the stored conversation histories to “make My AI more fun, useful and safer”, it says in another that content shared with My AI – which includes your location if you’ve shared that with Snapchat – may be used to “personalize your experience, including ads”.

This statement tells us that My AI conversations are used to build a picture of who users are and, by inference, what sort of things they’re most likely to buy.

Snapchat says that the choice of which ads are served is determined by the “context of your My AI conversation”, and whether users are specifically “looking for recommendations for products or services”. The company will also take into consideration age and location when deciding on ads.

Taken together, this information allows Snap to place targeted, “sponsored” adverts below the My AI response. This, as the mainstream search engines know only too well, is extremely lucrative.

Serious privacy issues

In October 2023, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued Snap a preliminary enforcement notice over its “potential failure to properly assess the privacy risks posed by its generative AI chatbot ‘My AI’.”

A provisional investigation by the body had found that Snap failed to “adequately assess the data protection risks posed by the generative AI technology, particularly to children”.

The ICO is currently waiting for representations from Snap. If it isn’t satisfied, the company “may be required to stop processing data in connection with ‘My AI’.” This would effectively prevent My AI being used in the UK.

The ICO’s involvement is important as My AI is the first UK example of generative AI embedded into a major messaging platform. There will inevitably be more to come, and it’s important that Snapchat’s model of working out issues on the fly isn’t widely adopted.

Messaging apps are particularly popular among children, many of which are younger than the age limit specified by the app. According to one survey carried out in Wales, children as young as seven and eight regularly use social media. Research carried out by UK communications regulator Ofcom found, “a third of children aged between 8 and 17 with a social media profile have an adult user age after signing up with a false date of birth”.

If these younger children, who are claiming to be 18, were to use the Snapchat bot, they’d be given responses as if they were in fact adults. All the bot looks at when deciding at what level to pitch its replies is the birthdate entered by the user on signup.

Furthermore, younger children may engage with the bot as if it were an actual person. This could result in them divulging sensitive personal information and potentially forming an unhealthy emotional relationship.

What can parents do?

If you’re worried about your child using Snapchat, you can try to get them to opt in to the company’s online Family Center. If parents then also opt in, they can use the in-app tool to see if their children are communicating with My AI, and how often this is taking place.

Do the following to access the Family Center:

  1. Open Snapchat
  2. Tap the gear icon in your Profile to open Settings
  3. Scroll to the “Privacy Controls” section
  4. Tap “Family Center”

You can also read our guides to “Parent’s guide to online chat safety” and “Protecting Children’s Privacy Online.”


FAQs about Snapchat’s My AI chatbot

How do I stop My AI harvesting my location?

If you share your location with Snapchat or mention it to the bot, then My AI will keep a record of it – even when you’re in Ghost Mode. If you don’t like the sound of this, you can turn off location sharing by doing the following:

In iOS:

  1. Open “Settings” on your device
  2. Scroll down “Privacy and Security”
  3. Tap “Location Services”
  4. Scroll down to Snapchat
  5. Under “Allow Location Access,” choose “NEVER”

In Android:

  1. Long-press the Snapchat app icon
  2. Tap “APP info”
  3. Tap “Permissions”
  4. Tap “Location”
  5. Choose to “DENY” location permissions

What other data is Snapchat collecting?

Snap was collecting user data long before the arrival of My AI. Its privacy policy states that it collects all of the following:

  • Information about how you interact with Snapchat’s Services (e.g. how often you communicate with other Snapchatters and which Stories you watch)
  • Information about content you create or provide, your engagement with the camera and creative tools, your interactions with My AI, and metadata
  • Device information
  • location information (IP address)
  • Information collected by cookies and web beacons

Does Snapchat obtain user data elsewhere?

Yes. Snapchat collects data about you from other users, affiliates, and third parties. This includes linked third-party service data, data from advertisers, and contact information from other Snapchatters or third parties.