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SnapMap and Privacy: Where Do We Draw the Line?

July 4, 2017

In the past 5 years, Snapchat has grown to be one of the most used social media platforms with 166 million daily users. Based on the ability for users to send pictures, videos and messages that last for a selected and brief period of time, the app has become an easy and fast way for people to communicate. With huge introductions over the years such as geotagging, My Story (where pictures and videos are shared across your friends), Our Story (where your story is visible to the public), and cute filters that turn you into a loveable animal with glasses- there is seemingly no end to the fast-growing app.

Recently however, Snapchat has divided its users with its most recent expansion dubbed SnapMap. In this, users are able to view the exact physical location of other users on a map located within the app. For those that strictly monitor who is included as part of their friends list the update may seem harmless. For those who haven’t, or haven’t been able to restrict the location sharing, it can bring hesitation and risks.

Simply by pinching the screen when inside the app, you will enter the SnapMap. Now, this is where you will see the users in your area most likely restricted to those you are friends with. Their signature Bitmoji characters can be seen dotting your map. The scariest part? You can zoom right into their location, whether it is residential or otherwise and when done far enough the physical appearance view of the building they are in can be seen.

Understandably, this has caused a bit of a stir. Users are concerned by the addition, questioning the necessity of the SnapMap feature. It poses potential threats to children who use the app who may not be aware of the full risks involved in sharing your location widely to users. More than that, it is unlikely that many know about the apps new addition, especially as it wasn’t widely publicised within the app besides an easily skippable display.

So, is it really just a fun new addition, or something that jeopardises user safety?

Potential Threats of SnapMap

There comes a risk to having your physical location shared at any moment, especially if you are unaware that it is even happening. The major negative feedback is seen in users who are frightened about the potential of stalkers, predators or more to find their location with ease, leading to dangerous situations.

Although it has been said that only mutual friends can see each other on map, it is clear that you are able to share this on a wider scale. Locations are updated whenever users engage with the app, and remain visible for up to 8 hours, timestamped. For those who don’t closely manage who they have on their personal Snapchat it can be a case of not wanting to get so personal with their home address, work address, or any address. Luckily, there are ways to get around SnapMaps.

Choose Who Can See You

You can control how your location is shared within the app. This can be done through the settings option within the SnapMap feature. The options presented are:

  • My Friends: My Friends is where your contacts on snapchat can view your location at any time. This is a good option for those who aren’t too concerned regarding their locational information, and for those that do not add unknown contacts.
  • Select Friends: This allows users to be selective with who is able to view their location. This may be popular amongst small groups of friends who would like to stay up to date with their friendship group.
  • Ghost Mode: The safest option for children, or private individuals. Ghost Mode gives users the ability to hide their location from the map. However, they are still able to view the location of others who have not cut off their location share.
  • Disallow Location Access: To use the SnapMap feature, you need to give SnapChat access to your location trhough your smartphone settings. By disallowing this access, the SnapMap feature won’t be activated on your app and no one will be able to see your location. You also won’t be able to use the feature to see other users’ locations.

Change the Settings

Once the app has updated to include this feature, users will be able to choose immediately which setting they would like to choose for their location share. As said before, this is something that users who are trying to snap can skip, so notice may not be taken. You are able to change the way your location is shared, by:

  1. Snapchat Settings: When in the camera of snapchat, click on the ghost icon in the top left corner. From there, you will be taken to a home screen. In the top right corner, there is a settings icon. Once clicked, scroll down to the ‘who can…’ section. Here, there is ‘see my location’ and from there you can alter the way you share your locational information.
  2. In SnapMap: To access SnapMap, pinch your screen inwards. From there, you will be able to click on the SnapMap settings located in the top right corner. Choose from the 3 options listed as to who can see your location.

Understandably, this new feature has got social media users questioning the way that we share our private lives, publicly. Our relationship with apps and media is changing with every advancement made in the industry, for better or worse. With our information becoming so readily available, what else will our social apps go to sharing next? Our bank details? Our medical records?

Ensure that you become more aware of the way that you are sharing your private information, and watch closely the way that young children, friends or family members engage socially. They may not even know that they are sharing this private information at times.