A new Snapchat feature is a stalker's dream and a privacy nightmare
Posted July 1
The geolocation tracking features on cellphones are a parent’s best friend. Moms and dads can digitally follow their kids to make sure they get where they’re going safely, and that teenagers are actually where they say they are.
And even though teens may feel their privacy is compromised because of this, parents praise the technology. But how would you feel about that same technology broadcasting your location (and your kids’ locations) to every person on your friends list every time you open the app? Does that make you uneasy? It should.
That is what Snapchat’s new feature, Snap Map, does if you opt in to share. Who would agree to that, you ask? The problem is that Snapchat doesn’t mention this will happen when you give permission to the new Snap Map feature.
Snapchat doesn’t mention this will happen in the video promoting its new feature. Snapchat doesn’t mention this will happen anywhere in the app. So users are led to believe Snapchat will only share their location to all their friends when they share Snaps to Our Story.
But that isn’t true. If you opt in to Snap Map’s location sharing, Snapchat will broadcast your location (Find my Friends style) every time you open the app. And I’m not talking about just a general idea of your location. Friends can zoom in to see the exact building or house where you are when you open the app.
Snap Map pins your Bitmoji avatar on a map and your friends can track you in real time as long as you have the app open. Users can access the map by pinching on the main camera view.
The new Snap Map feature is part of last week’s update. It isn’t automatically live, and Snapchat is billing it as “a whole new way to explore the world!” When you update the app, Snapchat gives you choices of who you’d like to have access to your location. You can choose All Friends, Select Friends or Only Me.
Users who want their location to remain private should select the “Ghost Mode” option of Only Me. Choosing this makes your avatar disappear from everyone’s maps. If there are certain times you’d like people to know where you are, (a concert or the beach) then by all means, share your location with your friends. But make sure you change it back to Ghost Mode. All your friends don’t need to know every time you go to the dentist, on a walk, or are in a remote location late at night.
You may remember Facebook previously had a similar opt-in feature called Nearby Friends. But several months ago, Facebook made it less invasive. Now, friends on Facebook can decide to share a general location (like a neighborhood), and users can see a list of how close their friends are. But Facebook took away the map feature, making it a bit less creepy.
In my informal polling of my teenagers and their friends, they see nothing wrong with their friends knowing where they are at all times. They think it would be helpful if, say, they needed a ride home, and they could see if one of their friends was nearby. “It’s modern,” one of my kids said. I tried to explain that it opens the doors for stalkers and other creepy people and eliminates any privacy.
In their teenage world, though, privacy is an antiquated notion. And frankly, one with which they aren’t too concerned. So, if parents are concerned, they can ensure kids’ locations remain private by turning off location sharing in the phone’s settings. For iOS, this is under Privacy settings.
Go to Location Services and you can turn them completely off for all apps on the phone. It’s likely you want to keep location sharing on for Find my Friends and Maps, so go ahead and turn those on, while making sure the rest are set to Never. For Android phones, go to Location Settings and either disable it altogether or allow it only for certain apps.
Admittedly, there is something cool about playing around with the feature. Go ahead and turn on Ghost Mode and pinch on the camera view to enter Snap Map. The map itself looks like any other navigational tool, until you zoom in. Then it’s reminiscent of Google Maps, but with a cool watercolor-type vibe.
A heat map feature lights up certain areas to denote something is happening there and people are posting a lot of snaps about it through the Our Story feature. You can swipe around and see a fascinating variety of posts from people all over the world. As I type, things look hot at Hong Kong Disneyland, a Dierks Bentley concert in North Carolina, and the Glastonbury Festival in England.
So, if you want to be a creeper to the world and a voyeur to the lives of Snapchatters everywhere, go for it. It can be a fun time-waster and an interesting peek into other people’s lives. Just make sure your kids don’t end up on the wrong end of the stalking stick.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson