At the Snap Partner Summit, one thing is clear: The company is pulling out all the stops to woo its Gen Z userbase and keep them 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-form video feed and creator program. But as U.S. legislators debate a full ban on the TikTok app, it’s no surprise that the ban would be a boon for companies like Snap and Meta, which seem to be 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 crowd responded to the bold comment with cheers and whoops — hey, at least Spiegel is being honest.
But Spiegel also acknowledged the dangerous precedent for other social platforms if Congress actually managed to ban TikTok. TikTok is in the unique situation due to its Chinese ownership, which has proven problematic for the company’s reputation among U.S. government officials.
“It is important for us to be thoughtful and really develop a regulatory framework to deal with security concerns, especially around technology,” Spiegel said onstage. “I think based on the information that is publicly available, there are legitimate national security concerns far above my pay grade.”
There still is no evidence of Chinese government officials accessing the data of U.S. TikTok users, but ByteDance — TikTok’s Chinese parent company — has.
Snapchat Spotlight, Snap’s TikTok competitor, now has 350 million monthly users, which still falls behind competitors like TikTok, which eclipsed 1 billion monthly users in 2021, and YouTube Shorts, which reports 1.5 billion logged-in monthly viewers. But, as revealed at the Partner Summit, Snap is continuing to invest heavily in AR and AI experiences to differentiate itself.
The platform is emphasizing how AR technology can help drive both online and in-person retail sales, since consumers can use AR to try on clothes and accessories (but the technology isn’t quite sophisticated enough yet to help you see how different sizes will fit on your body, which makes an good old-fashioned dressing room still feel necessary). TikTok hasn’t been very successful in e-commerce in the West, so Snap’s shopping-specific AR products could make it more attractive to brand partners and consumers alike.
Snap moves quickly, but its fast pace comes at a price and the company is no stranger to safety scandals. When it comes to AI, Snap must be cautious. If government regulators are worried about teens having TikTok in their pocket, what risks does it pose that now all Snapchatters have an in-app AI chatbot at their fingertips?
“I think humans, whenever we 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 responses from My AI abide by community guidelines, but it’s easy to see how that 0.5% could get very messy. The text chatbot is available to all Snapchat users, but Snapchat+ subscribers can send photos to an AI chatbot, who will respond with its own photos. One example Snap provided showed a user sending My AI a photo of a tomato plant, and the AI responded with a suggestion for a tomato soup recipe.
TechCrunch asked a Snap employee who worked on My AI what would happen if, for example, a Snapchatter tried to send nude photos to My AI. The employee said that the AI is designed not to respond in kind, and instead, tell the user that it won’t engage with that kind 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 love to push the limits of new technology.