As enigmatic as it is ephemeral, Snapchat has admittedly been more open about its operations and data since its IPO last year. However, now as it makes the final push towards General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance it’s being more explicit about its privacy policies and giving users greater control over the information they share with advertisers.
Due to the already transient nature of Snapchat, data minimisation has long been part of its privacy-by-design ethos; meaning it's arguably had to put in less elbow grease than its competitors to avoid the threat of multimillion GDPR fines.
Bringing opt-out, in-app
Like Google and Facebook, however, Snap is making it simpler for users to access its privacy tools and procedures, unveiling a new online privacy centre where users can check out its policies in plain English. The biggest change, however, lies within its flagship app.
The Venice Beach-based company is now allowing users to opt in or out of certain high-level audience segments (or ‘Lifestyle Categories’ in Snap speak) they’ve been placed into and sold against based on their Snapchat behaviour within areas of the app like Discover – its publisher hub.
So, if the app has a user pegged as a beauty lover or a country music fan and is serving them ads as part of this audience segment users can opt-out of such targeting. Snap gleans this first-party information by monitoring the content users engage with within its walls.
Separately, while users have always been able to opt-outs of all targeting based on Snap’s third-party data – ie ads from brands that are using the platform’s pixel to measure and retarget ads across the internet – they can now do so via few swipes in the app.
If users opt out of first and third party data, non-personalised ads will be shown.
They can also clear their search history, location data and manage their Story in the new privacy centre, as well as request a dump of their own data.
Location, location, location
Snap's GDPR efforts are being led by former Facebook and Uber privacy boss, Katherine Tassi, who will be hoping that GDPR will help somewhat level the playing field between Snap rivals like Facebook – the growth of which it has failed to keep pace with.
The platform has always had a lower data retention period than Facebook, never holding on to information for more than two years. It's not had to make any changes to this policy in line with GDPR, nor has it had to ask for any form of repermissioning in any form.
When it comes to location, and the way Snap uses that to sell ads and power products like its Snap Maps service the business has already had to make trade offs thanks to a reluctance to serve up "creepy ads".
For now, its location products are real-time focused, but the company has hinted that in time there may be location-based products or features that require users to opt-in for new data to be collected or stored for a longer period of time.
Users have to be 13 and over to sign up to Snap, and to meet the GDPR requirement on parental consent for processing personal data of people who are younger than 16 in Europe.
Snapchat has said it will make "reasonable" efforts required to confirm that consent has been given by someone who holds parental responsibility. However, it will ultimately shut off certain data collection and targeting for users in this age group, including location data.
However, like other social networks, there's no real way to stop under-16s claiming to be over 16 when they self-report their age during the onboarding process. Though, at the same time there is little incentive to be dishonest.
Notably, this hasn't stopped brands like Captain Morgan have pausing ad spend with Snap and querying the efficacy of the app's age-verification process, begging the question of whether Snap will eventually refine this process.
So what does GDPR mean for Snap's ad business?
The impact of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica crisis and concerns over how political advertising on platforms including Twitter, coupled with GDPR has forced the big players to curb their data collection in recent months.
Snapchat, however, was already built for this; meaning it's unlikely to see any short term drop off when it comes to ad revenues or users being turned off by GDPR repermissioning requests.
After a controversial redesign which saw it log just 191 million daily active users in its most recent earnings report (growth on last quarter, but less than market expectations) Snap in is need of a user bump to help assuage investors and help it prove its room for profitability.
If users do use it's new controls to opt-out, advertisers will be serving up a less tailored experience but this isn't any different to the changes being made by other platforms – with Google being among those to build a solution for publishers to serve non-personalised ads against.
More of The Drum’s coverage of how companies are preparing for GDPR can be found in the dedicated topic section.