Snap adds new warnings and region blocks to address teen ‘sextortion’ scams

Snap is rolling out intense new protections for teenagers’ Snapchat accounts in an effort to “address a growing trend of sophisticated sextortion scams.” Among them are new warnings and automatic friend request blocks targeting accounts that may be bad actors.

The features are aimed at stemming the tide of sextortion scams, the company writes in a blog post about the changes. The scams, in which bad actors threaten teens and children that they will reveal sexually explicit photos of them unless they pay a ransom or send more such material, is a growing problem that “has resulted in an alarming number of deaths by suicide,” according to the FBI. The bureau writes on its site that even when the scammers are paid, they will often release the materials anyway.

To stop scammers, Snap says it will now show a warning message in the app when teens receive a message from someone that others have blocked or reported, or when that person’s account is from a “region where the teen’s network isn’t typically located.” The warning presents options to report or block the person, or just tap “Okay” to chat with them. Before this, the disclaimer would show up for accounts that don’t share mutual friends with you or aren’t associated with someone in your contacts.

The Snapchat app will also “prevent delivery of a friend request altogether” when it comes from an account with no mutual friends or that “has a history of accessing Snapchat in locations often associated with scamming activity.” Snap says these are all potential signs of scammy activity.

The sextortion issue isn’t just limited to Snapchat. It’s particularly been an issue as AI has enabled people to quickly and easily make fake nudes of others. Warnings like these may not stop it entirely, but companies have to do something to deal with the issue, particularly as governments increasingly push to regulate social media, ostensibly to protect children.

In addition to the new friend request warnings, Snap is also trying to clarify its location sharing settings. It’s moving them all to one location so that users can “see exactly which friends they are sharing their location with, update their location settings, and remove their location from the map.” As shown in the image above, that means you can choose to share your location with all of your friends, all except specific ones, or only certain friends. The company also says it’s adding “more frequent reminders” of who users are sharing their location info with.

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