I’ll get to the point straight away here. That blue-faced, sea monster lookalike with terrible hair who has invaded my Snapchat should be tied and bound, sealed in Pandora’s box, slapped with a first-class stamp on and thrown on the first Royal Mail plane to Timbuktu.
This is the worst feature any social media app has ever implemented.
It’s even worse than Instagram’s terrible rebrand when, a few years ago, they ditched their attractively rustic camera icon for that stupid pink and purple blotchy mess. It’s as if they did a blood test on a bottle of Robinson’s summer fruits squash.
When I routinely opened Snapchat, I was rather alarmed when a random bloke who looked like Sully from Monsters Inc. suddenly appeared at the top of my chats list. Then it got worse because I realised it was just another Snapchat stunt – yet another useless feature. But then it got worse still. Because I realised I couldn’t delete my new Smurf friend.
As it turns out, you have to pay £3.99 a month for Snapchat+ to get rid of the bugger. That’s nearly £50 per year.
But then people started asking personal questions. That’s when it got freaky
Naturally curious, however, everyone’s first reaction was to test the limits of the coding rats at Snap. So we all began asking it what we should wear, how to write an essay and whether we should have spaghetti or pasta. Some of the answers are undeniably accurate. For example, this thing knows that, when people say ‘what do we think of Tottenham?’, the correct answer is ‘s***’. This is all quite impressive.
But then people started asking personal questions. That’s when it got freaky. Because it knows you have a brother called Sam and a Pizza Express two hundred yards down the road. And, when confronted with prickly questions asking how on earth it knew all that, Mr AI seemed to backtrack, blaming ‘confusion’ and a ‘misunderstanding’.
In other words, Snap’s attempt to create a human-like AI has indeed succeeded. If the human in question is a creep.
On this basis, I’m going to fuel a growing conspiracy. The Stig of the Dump that’s forever at the top of your Snap screen is essentially Snapchat’s mole. I think it’s entirely plausible that, without you knowing, it’s tracking your location even when your phone’s off. It is also equally convincing to claim it can hear you on FaceTime and see your face clouded by Snap’s ridiculous filters.
This sounds scary. And it is. But it’s just the latest fad in a growing trend of monitoring. I’ve said this before in various places, but life really is becoming like Orwell’s 1984.
Why? Because it’s so easy in a digital world.
When you go on the Guardian to be brainwashed by Corbyn, do you accept cookies? Of course. Because it’s quicker to just hit the bold ‘Accept’ button and carry on reading the Communist Manifesto than to read what ‘cookies’ actually are.
Cookies are on every site. And they’re inspired by Hansel and Gretel. Because they create a cookie trail from every site you’ve ever visited, leading straight to your front door.
It’s idiotic, exploitative and dangerous
And what happens next? Your cookie trails get sold to data crunchers, who then make sure the online ads you see reflect your interests. A hammer and sickle for the regular Guardian reader, for example (huge hate incoming).
In short, you’re being tracked everywhere you go online. Algorithms are smarter than Einstein. That’s why Instagram always shows you the posts you’re most interested in first, even if they aren’t chronologically ordered.
This is beginning to sound like an e-safety lecture, so we’ll hastily snap out of that and snap back in to Snap.
What Snapchat has done with My AI is very clever. Very clever indeed. People are scared of all these other algorithms precisely because they hide in the background. You can’t see them, and people don’t like what they can’t see.
So why not hide it in plain sight? Disguised as a sea urchin with purple hair, this guy’s much more entertaining than an unfathomable reel of code. For any Bond fans out there, it’s like Spectre. Gathering data right in front of your eyes – but marketed as something else.
Unless it removes the blue cuckoo from its nest, Snapchat will be a thing of the past
Alas, although undoubtedly ingenious, it’s undoubtedly idiotic, exploitative, and dangerous.
Without speaking legalese, Snapchat is a 13+ app. 13-year-olds are kids. They’re extremely malleable. So when they suddenly find themselves talking to a non-existent ‘friend’ who replies instantly, is there not a danger here of being sucked into manipulation? Especially when the Smurf has been asking people to meet up in the park, it’s borderline robotic paedophilia.
Let’s summarise. Snap’s AI is terrible.
It’s downright annoying because that stupid blue face lingers at the top of the screen like a bad smell. It’s manipulative and creepy. It knows everything about you that you’ve never told it. And it would still continue to gather data on you if you locked your phone in a chest and threw it off the Titanic.
A creepy, blue-headed know-it-all? Snapchat’s AI is basically Megamind, snooping around in your business. Which is why, unless it removes the blue cuckoo from the nest, Snapchat will be a thing of the past.