A new Snapchat feature called Snap Maps is being heavily criticized. The feature allows people to see where their friends are when they post a photo or video. For parents, the police, and teachers, this is leading to concerns for young people’s safety. However, is it just children that need to be worried? And what does the sudden alarm demonstrate about the way that adults are permitting children to use technology in the first place?
Snapchat started rolling out the new map feature on 21June, and since then many people have raised the alarm. A feature called “Our Stories” is causing the most concern, as it allows people to attach their location to snaps that even strangers can access.
However, due to that fact that there is a social instinct, nowadays, to get more and more friends on social media platforms, there is a fear that even the Snap Maps feature alone could have repercussions.
More Friends Please
When Snap Maps is switched on, Snapchat users are able to see a detailed map of where all their contacts are. Due to the fact that kids believe having more friends makes them more popular, parents are suddenly becoming extremely worried and asking themselves: Who the hell is my child in contact with on Snapchat?
The good news is that Snap Maps can be switched off. Any parent who is concerned about the feature should sit down with their child and talk about why it needs to be switched off. In addition, they should communicate about why the Our Stories feature is best avoided.
However, the sudden panic about Snap Maps appears to be a symptom of parents’ lack of control over their children’s digital presence. This lack of control brings to light a far deeper problem about social media and the lack of restraint that parents are currently exerting on their kids.
On the one hand, it is understandable that parents don’t want to make their child an outcast on the playground. Certainly, it is true that these days young people are under a certain amount of social pressure to use apps like Facebook and Snapchat.
On the other hand, the fact that parents are suddenly so worried about kids’ safety (due to Snap Maps) highlights the fact that guardians have no real idea who their kids are communicating with online.
As you probably know, Snapchats can be set to disappear once they have been viewed. In my book, that raises concerns for parents from the get-go. After all, a parent or guardian’s job is to monitor their child’s safety. A platform that provides the ability for strangers to converse with children in relative secrecy should have been concerning long before the introduction of Snap Maps.
Is pointing the finger at Snapchat and saying “this isn’t good enough!” a way for parental guardians to absolve themselves of fault for not having provided proper care and oversight in the first place? Parents should know who their kids are befriending online, and proper supervision should already be occurring – in my personal opinion.
The UK’s Safer Internet Centre has given the following advice to parents:
“It is important to be careful about who you share your location with, as it can allow people to build up a picture of where you live, go to school and spend your time. Given how specific this new feature is on Snapchat – giving your location to a precise pinpoint on a map – we would encourage users not to share their location, especially with people they don’t know in person.”
Adults Also at Risk
Then there are apps like Get Friends for Snapchat & Kik, Snapchat usernames, which allow people to find new Snapchat contacts online that they have never met. This is a massive concern not just to children, but to teenagers, young adults, and even adults. In fact, if not managed correctly there is just as much danger to adults from Snap Maps as there is to anybody else.
Adults are often thought to be more in control of their digital footprints than children. There is also the assumption that adults are able to better protect themselves. However, with Snapchat dating apps available, even adults could fall victims to stalkers and con artists due to Snap Maps.
In fact, when one starts to look more closely at how Snapchat is used by certain demographics, those concerns become even more poignant.
“Snapchat for Life”
In 2014, it was reported that adult workers were making millions of dollars by stripping from home. One way of extracting more revenue from that job is for adult models to sell access to their Snapchat for a sum of money. For punters who want to look cool in front of their friends (by appearing to have a very attractive friend on Snapchat) the temptation can be huge, and cam workers know it.
However, because cam workers often put on strip shows for thousands of viewers at a time, the idea that their location could be revealed to consumers is a massive concern. Jesse Adams of MiKandi, a firm that has several live cam apps in the app store (and is the co-founder of the up-and-coming, privacy-focused browser Tenta) told me the following about Snap Maps:
“It seems clear now that many first time users of Snap Maps have no idea that their location is shared as soon as the app is opened. This is a big problem for cam models and especially models that work out of cam studios.
“In order for Snap Maps to be safe for this community, the models will need more control on when and how much of their location is shared instead of an all or nothing approach. Having said that, Snapchat cannot publicly endorse or support the adult industry, so it’s highly doubtful that the company will respond or adapt to the models’ concerns.”
As you can see from the image above, celebrities (who actually run their own Snapchats, unlike on many other social media platforms) are also at risk of divulging their locations.
Is Snapchat at Fault?
Geo-location is a common feature of many apps. Uber, for example, allows drivers to see exactly where people are for around five minutes after they get out of the car. The fact is that not only does Snapchat allow people to opt out of using Snap Maps, but it even asks them to turn it on in the first place. As such, it is impossible for Snapchat users to give away their location without specifically giving the app permission to do so.
What’s more, the feature is pretty non-invasive (as far as geo-location features go) and only shows people’s location the last time that they made a snap. In addition, people disappear from the map a couple of hours after they stop using the app. With that in mind, the idea that the app is constantly showing people’s location is somewhat false – and has certainly been blown out of proportion by the tabloid papers.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that only people who both follow each other are able to see each other on maps. As such (and unlike with Pokemon Go), it would appear that geo-location privacy still remains possible when using Snapchat. With that in mind, Snapchat is simply offering an extra that doesn’t have to be used by those who don’t wish to be tracked.
For parents, the danger is that their children will irresponsibly turn the feature on without thinking of the consequences. It is even possible that kids may ignore their parents’ warnings and turn the feature back on after their guardian has asked them to disable it.
One option would be for Snapchat to install a parental lock feature in the app, which allows adults to permanently lock the feature. This could be a fantastic way to allow parents to exercise reasonable control over their kids’ Snapchat safety.
For adults, on the other hand, any disclosure of their location is made in a completely transparent and knowing manner. As such, it is hard to find too much fault with Snapchat’s new feature. Anybody who urgently requires their location to remain a secret is strongly advised to remain a ‘Ghost’ from the start – or, better yet, leave Snap Maps switched off completely.
Opinions are the writer’s own.
Title image credit: Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com
Image credits: Twitter screenshots taken from Bored Panda