Executives at social media firm Snapchat have been questioned by MPs over the company’s failure to implement a stringent age verification system.
Appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on Tuesday 19th of March, Stephen Collins and Will Scougal accepted that age verification systems put in place by the company were not robust enough.
The DCMS’ Immserive and Addictive Technologies inquiry is investigating the impact of emerging technologies and digital media on society. Earlier this month, the inquiry heard testimony on the impact of gaming addiction by a number of self-confessed ‘addicts’.
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Both executives were called before the Committee following the murder of Breck Bednar in Essex in 2014. Members of Breck’s family received distressing, taunting messages on the platform, which are believed to have been sent by his killer.
One MP, Ian Lucas (Labour) told the duo that he had been able to sign up for the app despite detailing that he was just 12 years old. When notified of the minimum age requirements, he was able to simply change his age and continue.
Collins was keen to add that underage users attempting to sign up via web browser were more easily caught out by cookies.
“Your age verification system does not work for a popular way of signing up to Snapchat. Do you agree?” asked Lucas.
Collins remarked: “On the initial sign-up, certainly we agree.”
Both executives agreed that Snapchat did not want underage users on the platform and insisted there is no commercial benefit to allowing children under the age of 13 to use the app.
While Snapchat does analyse user behaviour to establish whether underage users have gained access, Collins suggested there is no “foolproof way” to prevent them from signing up and using the app.
Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has grown to become one of the most popular social messaging and photo sharing apps in the world. According to 2018 statistics, the platform had more than 186 million daily active users worldwide.