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Snap confirms EU users will soon be able to opt out of content ‘personalization’

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A picture taken on October 1, 2019 in Lille shows the logo of mobile app Snapchat displayed on a tablet.
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Snap has become the latest mainstream social media firm to trail incoming changes in Europe that include the ability for users of its messaging app to switch off tracking-based content personalization. The measures come ahead of a major digital regulation compliance deadline Friday.

The European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) requires larger platforms let users opt out of content recommender systems based on profiling their own activity on the platform, in addition to a number of algorithmic transparency and accountability measures which are applied to so-called VLOPs (very large online platforms) and VLOSE (very large online search engines).

The broader sweep of the regulation — which will apply to scores of smaller digital services from early next year too — introduces a governance framework that aims to harmonize how online businesses respond to reports of illegal content, goods or services.

Back in April Snapchat was among 19 larger platforms named by the bloc as falling under the strictest level of regulation, which also requires they identify and mitigate systemic risks on their platforms, including in relation to areas like public health and minors’ mental health.

Meta and TikTok recently announced similar compliance measures to Snap. The deadline for the 19 firms to be compliant with the DSA is August 25. Penalties for breaches of the regime can reach up to 6% of global annual turnover.

Europe spins up AI research hub to apply accountability rules on Big Tech

In a blog post on its DSA compliance steps, Snap said it will provide users in the EU with the ability to opt out of personalization in the Discover and Spotlight feeds on Snapchat, in addition to being able to get more information on how its AI-based content recommender systems works.

“As part of our DSA response, all Snapchatters in the EU will now have the ability to better understand why content is being shown to them and have the ability to opt out of a personalised Discover and Spotlight content experience,” it wrote, adding: “We have developed a simple guide to describe how personalisation works on Snapchat.”

Earlier this year the company hopped aboard the AI chatbot bandwagon by launching an in-app bot that can respond to users’ chats with generative AI responses. We’ve asked Snap whether or not users in the EU will be able to switch this chatbot off as part of its DSA compliance, too. Update: A Snap spokesman confirmed the AI chatbot is opt-in — meaning Snapchat+ subscribers in the EU can already choose not to use it.

Other DSA-related changes Snap affirms in the blog post include the launch of an ads transparency library for adverts targeting users in the EU, which it discussed as incoming last month — along with more detail for users on why they are seeing a particular ad and controls to “limit” personalization of ads shown to them (such as by hiding some types of ads and editing the lifestyle interest categories assigned to them).

“Anyone can search this digital library of adverts shown in the EU and they can see details of paid advertising campaigns such as who paid for the ad, a visual of the creative, campaign length, impressions broken down by EU country and information about the targeting applied,” it writes of the ads transparency library.

Snap has also announced a new notification and appeals process for content removals — which it says will eventually be rolled out globally.

“We will now be notifying people with information as to why their account and certain content has been removed and easily allow them to appeal the decision,” it writes. “These features will initially be available to Snapchatters in the EU before rolling out to our global community over the coming months.”

Snap also notes that it’s building an integration to the European Commission’s Transparency API, which it says will provide “certain information about enforcement decisions that have been made about EU based accounts or content”.

Its blog post reiterates other recent changes it’s making in relation to advertising which it says will apply for Snapchat users in both the EU and the U.K. — including a ban on personalized advertising to users aged 13-17.

Ad targeting for these teens is being limited to what Snap couches as “basic essential information” — such as language settings, age and location.

While the U.K. is no longer an EU Member, which means the DSA does not apply, in recent years lawmakers in the country have honed in on online child safety — pressing for adoption of a design code that’s intended to prevent minors being tracked and profiled. Compliance with the design code has been attached to wider U.K. data protection rules which can also carry big fines for violations.

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