Snapchat admits its age verification safeguards are effectively useless
- Snap executives Stephen Collins and Will Scougal were grilled by UK lawmakers on Snapchat's age-verification process.
- Collins admitted that the system is effectively useless in stopping underage users from signing up to the Snapchat app.
- He said the systems might catch underage users out if they try to sign up via a web browser - but admitted the mobile app is more popular.
Two top Snap executives were grilled by a UK parliamentary committee on Tuesday about failures in Snapchat's age-verification system, with one admitting that it does not work.
Snap's senior director of international public policy, Stephen Collins, and EMEA director of creative strategy, Will Scougal, appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee on Tuesday.
They were called before lawmakers after the family of Breck Bednar, a British teenager murdered in 2014, received taunting messages on Snapchat purporting to be from his killer.
Labour MP Ian Lucas asked a series of questions about how age-verification works on the platform. He demonstrated a flaw in the system by trying to sign up to the app during the hearing and putting his year of birth as 2008.
When he was rejected as underage, meaning he was under the age of 13, he tried again with his real age and was able to create an account - his argument being that an underage user can easily bypass Snapchat's system.
"Your age verification system does not work for a popular way of signing up to Snapchat. Do you agree?" Lucas asked. Collins replied: "On the initial sign-up, certainly we agree."
Collins added, however, that if underage users try signing up for an account via a web browser, they can be caught out by cookies. This would mean a user will have previously given their real age on another website.
The Snap executives did not provide a breakdown of how many users sign up via the app versus a web browser, but confirmed that most will sign up via the app, where it is impossible to set a cookie. Snapchat has 186 million daily active users.
Will Scougal said Snap actively looks for "inference signals" to determine whether a user is in fact underage. He did not explain what these "inference signals" are.
Lucas also asked the Snap execs whether they had any figures showing how many users have been removed from Snapchat for being underage. "I'm afraid we don't have that number," replied Scougal.
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