NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, is urging Snapchat to take steps to protect young users who use the popular smartphone app from sexual predators and exposure to explicit adult content.
In a letter sent Monday to Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel, Blackburn charged that "Snapchat's disappearing videos are a child predator's dream." And she demanded to know what specific steps the publicly traded technology and camera company is taking to address the problem.
Citing the app's auto-deleting feature, she said that because it "allows individuals to set the erasure of photo evidence within seconds, predators are far more likely to use Snapchat than other platforms."
With children in 2019 "living an unprecedented amount of their young lives online," Blackburn wrote, "Snap must be transparent with users about the steps they take to ensure their application is used responsibly and not taken advantage of by those who wish to do innocent children harm."
Blackburn noted the company had $1.18 billion in revenue in 2018, "thanks in large part to a growing base of 16.4 million teen users. Yet, Snapchat's app rating — rated age appropriate for children ages 13 and up — fails to provide parents with adequate warnings about the platform's dangers."
While Snapchat's policies adhere to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, Blackburn said, "they no longer sufficiently protect our children in the new social media age."
The senator also told Spiegel in the letter that the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is advocating for an independent review board to ensure smartphone apps such as Snapchat are "rated correctly, in order to better inform parents' decisions. It would function similarly to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which monitors and rates video games, and the Motion Picture Association of America, she noted.
She asked what Snapchat is doing to protect minors from predators and "shield them from age-inappropriate material. And she asked the company provide her office a written response by July 29 to a series of questions.
Questions include what the platform is doing "to ensure that predators do not assume false identities in order to elicit sexual or provocative images from minors."
Other questions include whether Snapchat intends to provide parents with more controls to monitor what their minors send, receive, and view on the platform and how it would be done.
And the senator wants to know if Snapchat intends to change its app descriptions on Apple App Store and Google Play Store to "more accurately describe the availability of frequent and explicit sexual content and nudity on the platform." And finally, Blackburn asks whether Snapchat's revenue model and user growth depend on attracting young users under the age of 18.
Roll Call, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper and website covering Congress, later reported that a Snapchat spokesperson said the company takes a zero tolerance approach to the issues raised by Blackburn.
"We've designed Snapchat with no browsable public profiles, and by default you can't receive a message or share location with someone you haven't added as a friend on the app," the spokesperson was quoted saying. "We work hard to detect, prevent and stop any abuse on our platform, and continue to work proactively with governments, law enforcement and best-in-class safety organizations to ensure that Snapchat continues to be a positive and safe environment."