Q&A with Dr Stephen Collins
This month, Policy World talks to Dr Stephen Collins, Director, Public Policy EMEA at Snap Inc
Q. Snap's interests are wide-ranging but the business does see itself as answering a particular niche. What is that and why would you go there when there are so many 'big boys' already in the social media space?
A. Snapchat was conceived as an antidote to the context-less communication that defines, and is the ambition of, “social media.” When you open the Snapchat app, you open to the camera which encourages users to talk in pictures, framing and experiencing the moment rather than distracting them from it with feed-based, perfect content. I don’t believe anyone else has this approach currently.
Q. Snap talks of the notion of 'ephemeral media'. What does that mean and isn’t that more of a concern in a world where the ability to be more anonymous on the web, rather than less, creates real difficulties? What measures have you put into place? Do issues such as 'fake news' affect you?
A. Snapchat is designed to be an ephemeral conversation among friends, attempting to replicate how people have conversations in person or on the phone. Snapchatters do not have browsable public profiles that include things like location, interests, or age. We try to keep Snapchat free of the pressure to be “perfect” or “popular” - there are no vanity metrics, public likes or public comments.
The lack of persistent data is clearly good news for users’ privacy. It is up to governments to ensure there is an appropriate legal and regulatory balance between user privacy and traceable data for, say, use in criminal investigations. The coming into force of the GDPR on 25 May can be seen as a major step in understanding where that balance lies. Snap was a supporter of the GDPR from the outset, since it encapsulates in statute what we strive for in our business.
In terms of fake news, the ephemerality of content and the emphasis on focused, high quality interactions with real friends means Snapchat is a poor platform for the wide spreading of illegal and harmful content generally.
Q. Protecting privacy, especially among the young, is of great social importance. Again, what measures has Snap put in place, and how effective have they been?
A. Privacy has always been a top priority for us and is fundamental to the way our platform works. From the outset, Snapchat was designed to recreate the feeling of a natural conversation -- a private communication between close friends that deletes by default and isn’t preserved for eternity. And this approach informs how we ourselves communicate with Snapchatters, the way we design and build new features, and the way we monetize and scale our business.
Q. Snap offers facilities for collaboration and experimentation - why is it important to do this and how do you choose those who might join?
A. Snap’s camera products allow anybody to become a creator of original content; from Snapchat opening to the camera, through the creation of Bitmojis (personalised avatars), and the use of our image and video capturing Spectacles hardware, to the full-scale development of interactive, augmented reality objects and animations in Lens Studio. These tools are available to anyone who wants to use them. We welcome all efforts to foster creativity and expression.
Q. The IIC has just launched the Future Leaders' Forum with a Competition attached. We acknowledge that learning is a two-way process. You have been long involved with the Institute - what do you think it offers younger people and, indeed, new businesses?
A. The IIC has long stood for high quality discussion and interaction in a friendly and collegial environment. Its biggest strength, though, lies in its ability to reach across the various industry silos, identifying common themes and trends for discussion. It might be media convergence, or AI, or investment issues. Whatever the topic, as a long time IIC advocate, I know there will be robust, useful and enjoyable discussion to be had. It’s great the IIC is proactively looking to bring fresh blood and thinking into the IIC with its Future Leaders’ Forum.
- Monday, 18 June 2018