Snapchat to stop retaining location data on under-16s in Europe

Move comes in response to introduction of GDPR

Snapchat plans to stop retaining certain data about users under the age of 16 in Europe, including precise location history, to comply with new EU privacy regulations.

The move is intended to allow the California-based company to meet the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation without having to cut off millions of younger teenagers from using its app.

Shares in Snapchat’s parent company Snap fell 7 per cent on Wednesday after WhatsApp, a rival messaging app, said it would raise its minimum age for users in Europe to 16 in response to GDPR.

The move by Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the most drastic yet by a popular mobile app to mitigate any risks that might arise from GDPR. Any breach can result in fines of as much as 4 per cent of annual global revenue.

Snapchat’s steps might allay fears among some users and investors that it would have to follow WhatsApp’s example and cut off under-16s altogether. Teenagers are among Snapchat’s most loyal and active users.

The new regime bans companies from processing personal information of children under 16 unless parents or legal guardians provide consent. Individual EU countries will also be able to determine their own age limit for consent on handling data for teenagers between 13 and 16 years of age.

Twitter also warned on Wednesday that the new rules could hit its user numbers. Facebook said it would ask under-16s to provide parental approval and stop targeting advertising at them.

Parental consent

Snap said on Wednesday that anyone in Europe over the age of 13 - its minimum age globally - would still be able to sign up for and use Snapchat following the introduction of GDPR next month. However, the company will no longer process any data that might require parental consent, including retaining geo-location history.

Though it does allow advertisers to target users based on certain kinds of personal information, Snapchat has always tried to position itself as a more private forum for personal conversation than rivals such as Twitter and Facebook. Its best-known feature allows users to send photos to friends that disappear as soon as they have been viewed.

Snapchat is also famous for its camera’s “lenses” which attach playful masks and characters to users’ photos of themselves. However, the app does not use facial recognition to create these selfie filters.

In a previous post to its online help pages, Snap said that its data privacy practices “have been aligned with the principles underpinning the GDPR for a long time” but it was “in the process of evaluating all of the personal data that we store”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018