Ask Titania: Is Snapchat’s MyAI Dangerous?
I have a teen that uses Snapchat to chat/send silly photos with her best friends, but I recently heard about this new chatbot the app is offering. I’ve seen some tweets saying how it’s problematic and potentially dangerous. Can you give me more info about what it is exactly and how I should talk to my kid about it?
Is MyAI a Bad Idea?
Dear Is MyAI a Bad Idea,
First, I’m glad to hear that Snapchat in general doesn’t cause too much strife at your house. A lot of families struggle with it! Snapchat, after all, is an app that was created to send nudes, so you can see how some kids may be tempted to use it for more than just puppy dog filters. Because of this, the app generally tops my list of problematic platforms for young people.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the creators were adding yet another function — a chatbot — that could potentially harm kids. Talk about a double-whammy! Don’t worry though, in this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
- Snapchat’s MyAI is a chatbot that works answering questions like ChatGPT
- MyAI is Snapchat’s attempt to keep users on the site longer
- How MyAI responds isn’t always predictable — Snapchat even states that answers may be incorrect, biased, and harmful
- Dangers may include MyAI answering questions about inappropriate content like sex, drugs/alcohol, adult-child relationships (i.e. predators), and more.
- Good news! Bark can monitor your kid’s MyAI chats and send you alerts (Android/Bark Phone) for concerning content.
First, What Even is a Chatbot?
Snapchat’s MyAI is a chatbot, a program that’s designed to answer questions you ask it. Chatbots are meant to provide useful information to humans, and sometimes even fun in the form of games and puzzles.
You’ve probably encountered one before without realizing it — lots of websites use them to answer simple customer questions in little boxes in the corner of the page. There are also automated text messages from doctor’s offices you can reply to (or unsubscribe from).
You may have even used a chatbot when you were young! That’s right, remember Clippy, the helpful paperclip in Microsoft Word? He was 100% an early chat bot — but he could only answer questions about margins and grammar (thank goodness). As technology has grown, so have chatbots’ ability to answer questions about nearly anything.
Chat GPT is the most recent chatbot to gain popularity (and notoriety) in the U.S., and its ability to answer questions that sound human is remarkable. Kids are already using it to write papers, solve math problems, and more.
Why Do Snapchat Users Need a Chatbot?
The short answer, of course, is: They don’t. But social media platforms make money the longer users — even kids! — stay on the app, which is why new features are constantly being rolled out. MyAI is Snapchat’s way of staying relevant, and it’s riding the ChatGPT wave from the past year or so.
Here’s what Snapchat says they hope kids do with it:
In a chat conversation, My AI can answer a burning trivia question, offer advice on the perfect gift for your BFF’s birthday, help plan a hiking trip for a long weekend, or suggest what to make for dinner.
Honestly, it still remains to be seen how popular MyAI ends up being with young people. But it’s important to know about it since it’s right there in your child’s app, waiting to be used.
What Snapchat Has to Say About MyAI
Snapchat talks out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to MyAI. In this article from their help center, they tell you just how helpful it is for planning parties and gift ideas. But then in the immediate next paragraph, they lob a huge caveat at you absolutely filled with red flags:
We’re constantly working to improve and evolve My AI, but it’s possible My AI’s responses may include biased, incorrect, harmful, or misleading content. Because My AI is an evolving feature, you should always independently check answers provided by My AI before relying on any advice, and you should not share confidential or sensitive information.
So there we have it — Snapchat basically says outright that this isn’t a great idea, and yet they’re experimenting with this service on our kids in one of the most popular apps for young people in the world.
This is where the controversy enters the chat (pun intended). While Snapchat talks about fun things like finding dinner recipes and planning hiking trips, kids may use MyAI for wildly different reasons. A tech columnist at the Washington Post experimented with the chatbot and found that he could get it to discuss:
- Ways to lose one’s virginity
- Types of alcohol
- How to cover the smell of alcohol
There are, of course, the occasional disclaimers. MyAI will remind users that the drinking age is 21, but then go on to explain things about alcohol anyway.
Another issue that may affect families is that kids could start to rely on MyAI for emotional support instead of family and friends. And because Snapchat states directly that sensitive information shouldn’t be shared with MyAI, there’s the possibility that it’s not safe and secure. No one wants personal life information spread online, and that seems like a possibility given the warning from the creators of the app itself.
3 Things to Talk to Your Kid About Concerning MyAI
If you’re worried about your child interacting with MyAI — and I definitely am with you! — here are a few conversation starters.
- Ask, “So this new MyAI on Snapchat, how do you think it works?”
- Goal of question: See how much they already know, and then provide them with some details you learned in this post or our ChatGPT blog post. You’d be surprised how much kids are tuned into tech, though they may miss key points.
- Ask, “What’s the difference between chatting with a friend and chatting with MyAI?”
- Goal of question: Get your kid thinking about what interactions really mean, and how emotional connections are different from just getting a “reply” back on an app.
- Ask, “Do you think MyAI could give bad advice? What’s an example?”
- Goal of question: Help your child understand that machines aren’t perfect, and that any answers should be double-checked for accuracy, if they’re based on objective information.
How You Can Disable It
Snapchat is really pushing MyAI to its users. It started out as a premium feature, but the company soon rolled it out to everyone across the world. Now, the reverse is happening — to remove it, you have to be a Snapchat+ subscriber. This means you have to pay to prevent your kid from accessing it if you allow them to use the app.
How Bark Can Help
On Android devices and the Bark Phone, Bark’s advanced monitoring will scan the chats between your child and MyAI and will alert you to potential dangers like drugs/alcohol, suicidal ideation, sexual content, and more. This way, you can check and make sure everything’s okay.
It’s my hope that kids will quickly realize that there’s not really much to MyAI. But you never know — tech and trends change so fast these days. The best way to stay on top of it all is to take a deep breath, keep reading these posts, and keep talking to your kid, no matter what.
Good luck (and you’re doing a great job – it’s not easy)!
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