Snap Maps allows Snapchat users to track their friends’ locations in real time. This new feature has raised many concerns due to its accuracy and specific nature. This feature is leaving users of all ages but especially children, vulnerable to exploitation and harm. The tag-line Snapchat used to provide Snap Maps with a friendly face is “we’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!” This couldn’t be any further from reality. In the minority of cases this is what it will be used for, but mostly it will be inundated with cases of stalking and bullying.

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One worrying element of Snap Maps is that it is an opt-out feature. This means prior to installing the update the user has no way to withdraw from this feature. By clicking through three screens the feature is activated, with a very brief, vague mention of location sharing. Consequently, some individuals may not realise they are using the Snap Maps feature. It would be much safer if the user could determine if they would like to allow their location to be available to their ‘friends’ list, before it automatically happens without their permission. Snapchat defends this by stating that “location-sharing is off by default and completely optional.” This is accurate, but as soon as the Snap Maps feature is activated by zooming out on the Snapchat default screen, the user is instantly sharing their location with their fellow contacts. As a result, if someone isn’t genuine or is faking their identity they can observe all of their contacts’ locations; this could result in devastating outcomes.

 

Another element of the feature that will allow stalkers and bullies to thrive is ‘Ghost Mode’. This allows users to hide their location, but they can simultaneously view the location of everyone else who has their location visible. This is allowing users to observe and in some cases, follow other users covertly without detection. Snap Maps is allowing stalkers to create a fully functioning, real-time platform to track their victims; 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stalkers can identify when their target is isolated and at their most vulnerable, which is leaving children and adults fully exposed and without protection. Therefore, all Snapchat users should be entirely aware of who the users on their friends list are. If users are not certain about one or more of their contacts, they should either be deleted or location sharing should be blocked from these unknown contacts.

 

“Actionmojis” makes this feature incredibly realistic, as life-like personalized avatars automatically adapt to suit a user’s location, time of day or speed of travel. For example; when Snapchat observes a user travelling by car their avatar will be altered so they appear in a car. This makes it even easier for stalkers and bullies to identify exactly what their victim is doing so they can determine the right time to pursue them.

 

Snapchat ‘stories’ were already crossing the line in terms of allowing others a glimpse into a user’s day-to-day life in real time. However, Snap Maps has taken the exposure to another level, as it is a constantly updating feature that allows users to ‘spy’ on their ‘friends’.

The only reassuring thing about Snap Maps is that ‘Ghost Mode’ is automatically activated if a user has been inactive on the Snapchat app for a couple of hours; but in today’s society it is the norm to be constantly checking and visiting apps such as Snapchat. Hence, most users will appear active for most of the day.

 

The moral of the story is that without careful monitoring, Snap Maps will broadcast a user’s exact location to anyone on their friends list every time they are active on the Snapchat application. Therefore, all Snapchat users need to either deactivate the feature or be very selective when choosing the users who can view their location.