Last week, the highly popular mobile app Snapchat introduced a new feature, the ‘Snap Map’, which enables users from across the world to access a map publicising the precise location of any user at all times unless they have enabled the so-called ‘ghost mode’.
Unsurprisingly, this new feature has caused a great deal of concern, in particular, for parents of children who use the app frequently. With just the touch of a button, anyone using Snapchat can view another user’s exact location—right down to the building they are in at any given time—without even needing to be accepted as a ‘friend’. Fears have been raised over the invasion of privacy, since the new feature could enable all manner of crimes. The ability to see when someone is home, for example, could lead to break-ins and burglaries. From a child protection angle, the ‘Snap Map’ could pose even more danger.
Consider a situation in which, after school each night, your child walks part of the journey home with a friend and the rest on their own, arriving at your house for 3:45pm and being alone until you return from work at 5:00pm. This is a normal daily routine for many families, and generally quite safe. However, now imagine the same situation, but in this scenario, your child has the ‘Snap Map’ enabled on their phone and his/her location is public information. Another user could be watching your child walk home each night, following the exact journey from school to your front doorstep through the screen, and they could figure out your child’s routine after just a few days of ‘following’. With access to this level of information, all sorts of potential risks come to the surface. Following online could quickly turn into stalking in real life, and knowing when your child is home, or out and about, could endanger them on a number of levels.
It might not necessarily be a stranger following your child’s location, either—consider what might happen during an argument with friends, or if your child is experiencing bullying and the perpetrators decide to take advantage of this constant stream of access to your child’s exact location. There are countless examples of the threats Snapchat’s new feature could deliver to your child.
Another layer of intelligence has been added to the ‘Snap Map’, which enables your phone to ‘know’ what you are doing at any given time, and to project this onto your avatar within the app. For example, periods of inactivity will register with Snapchat as you being asleep, and your ‘Bitmoji’ avatar will show this on the map. Likewise, there are reports that avatars have been spotted driving, listening to music and flying, based on the user’s activity, speed of travel, and location at the time.
Of course, enabling ‘ghost mode’ will allow your child to continue to use Snapchat safely, providing they only accept ‘friend’ requests from users they know personally, and avoid contact from people they do not know or have never met in real life.
However, Snapchat has other ways in which your child’s privacy could be compromised. The ‘Our Story’ feature, for example, enables your child to post their normally private ‘snaps’ onto a publicly-accessible stream of photos based on the location where they were uploaded, simply by touching one button. With the introduction of the ‘Snap Map, this feature is now much more easily accessible to all users.
Neither of these features will work if you have adjusted the location sharing settings on your phone to disable Snapchat from accessing them. You can do this by going into the settings on either the app, or on your device.
We recommend discussing the potential dangers with your child, and showing them how to access their location sharing settings in order that they understand how to prevent danger. As a precautionary measure, it would be sensible to ensure your child has ‘ghost mode’ activated at all times, and that they avoid posting snaps to ‘Our Story’.