Snap CEO Evan Spiegel on TikTok ban: ‘We’d love that’

by Ana Lopez

At the Snap Partner Summit, one thing is clear: the company is doing everything it can to win over its Gen Z user base and keep it on the platform. Like literally every other social media app, Snapchat responded to the pressure of TikTok’s massive growth by rolling out its own short video feed and creator program. But with US lawmakers debating a full ban on the TikTok app, it’s no surprise that the ban would be a boon to companies like Snap and Meta, which are most threatened by TikTok’s popularity.

When journalist Kara Swisher asked Snap CEO Evan Spiegel if he thinks there should be a TikTok ban, he replied, “We’d love that.” The audience responded to the bold comment with cheers and oops — hey, at least Spiegel is honest.

But Spiegel also acknowledged the dangerous precedent for other social platforms should Congress actually succeed in banning TikTok. TikTok is in the unique situation because of its Chinese ownership, which has proven problematic for the company’s reputation with US government officials.

“It’s important for us to be attentive and really develop a regulatory framework to address security issues, especially around technology,” Spiegel said on stage. “Based on the information that is publicly available, I believe there are legitimate national security concerns that are well above my pay grade.”

There is still no evidence that Chinese government officials have accessed US TikTok users’ data, but ByteDance — TikTok’s Chinese parent company — has.

Snapchat Spotlight, Snap’s TikTok competitor, now has 350 million monthly users, still trailing competitors like TikTok, which eclipsed 1 billion monthly users by 2021, and YouTube Shorts, which reports 1.5 billion logged monthly viewers. But, as revealed at the Partner Summit, Snap continues to invest heavily in AR and AI experiences to differentiate itself.

The platform highlights how AR technology can boost both online and in-person retail sales, as consumers can use AR to try on clothes and accessories (but the technology isn’t quite advanced enough yet to help you see how different sizes fit on your body, making a good old fashioned dressing room is still needed). TikTok hasn’t been very successful in e-commerce in the West, so Snap’s store-specific AR products could make it more appealing to brand partners and consumers alike.

Snap moves fast, but the fast pace comes at a price, and the company is no stranger to security scandals. When it comes to AI, Snap needs to be careful. If government regulators are concerned about teens carrying TikTok, what risks does it pose that all Snapchatters now have an in-app AI chatbot at their fingertips?

“I think whenever people come across new technology, the first thing we try to do is break it,” Spiegel said.

In his keynote, Spiegel said that 99.5% of My AI’s responses adhere to community guidelines, but it’s easy to see how that 0.5% can get very messy. The text chatbot is available to all Snapchat users, but Snapchat+ subscribers can send photos to an AI chatbot, which will respond with its own photos. An example Snap provided showed a user who sent My AI a photo of a tomato plant, and the AI ​​responded with a suggestion for a tomato soup recipe.

businessupdates.org asked a Snap employee working on My AI what would happen if, say, a Snapchatter tried to send nudes to My AI. The employee said the AI ​​is designed not to respond in kind, instead telling the user not to engage with that type of content. But on apps like Lensa AI, it proved too easy to trick the program into generating NSFW content. We’ll see how that plays out on Snapchat.

Remember what Spiegel said: people like to push the boundaries of new technology.

Learn more about Snap Partner Summit 2023

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