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Snapchat’s Snap Map: is there a genuine privacy concern?

David Wilson - Jun 28, 2017

When Snapchat released its latest app update, privacy concerns related to the new Snap Map feature dominated news headlines. This new feature could pinpoint the location of ‘minors’ to other people around the world. An understandable concern given that school aged children making up 23% of Snapchat’s 200 million-strong active user base.

But before we dig past the headlines to have a closer look at the new feature, let’s remember that this feature is not new. In fact, Apple’s Find My Friends app is automatically downloaded onto every newly purchased iPhone and helps individuals track their friends (phone contacts) in real time. The app Glympse offers a similar service. With those apps, no one made a peep!

Some of the concerns around child safety raised in the media have revolved around bullying and harassment, which begs the question: if the app is there to support friends finding each other, then how would bullies and strangers pinpoint an individual’s location? The answer is, they can’t without your consent. While individuals can follow you on Snapchat, in order for them to see your location you need to friend them back. That is, you need to ‘approve’ every individual that adds you before they can view your location. And to avoid any slip-ups or accidental sharing, the app’s default is ‘ghost mode’ which makes you totally invisible to your friends (but you can still see them if their settings allow). Instead of flicking a switch from ghost mode to all friends viewing your location, you can also pick a small select group of contacts and only share your location with a small close knit group.

The functionality of the feature itself isn’t anything new, however with 50 million users under the age of 18, there is an understandable need to educate children, parents, and the broader community on how to ensure children don’t unintentionally ‘overshare’ online, while still having a vibrant and connected online experience. This type of education is a core purpose of The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner and we encourage everyone to view the resources available on their website.

In the meantime, if you’re a parent with a child on Snapchat, have a conversation with them about the new feature and speak to them about the different sharing privileges in Snap Maps. And while you’re there, it might be a good time to see if they are using the apps ‘Yellow’ and ‘SpotaFriend’. If you’re concerned about Snapchat, wait until you learn about these 2 apps…

More information around the settings of Snap Map can be found on Snapchat’s site here.

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