Snap Inc., owner of the popular social media app Snapchat, recently released a new feature that has some privacy advocates concerned.
Snap Maps was rolled out to several countries, including Canada, on Friday, and allows users to display their location on a map while using the app. If you choose to use this feature, Snapchat will track your location and share it with select friends, by placing your avatar in a specific location on the map. However, on its lowest privacy settings, this feature is designed to broadcast your location to everyone on your friends list whenever you open the app.
While there is the option to opt out of this feature, otherwise known as “Ghost Mode,” critics have maintained in the days since it was released that Snap Map could be used to stalk or bully others.
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The child safety group Childnet International released a statement on how to safely use and enjoy Snap Maps:
“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.”
The group encourages people not to share their location, especially with strangers, because Snap Map shares where you are to “a precise pinpoint on a map.”
Snapchat isn’t the only social media firm to be criticized for its location tracking practices. As reported by the Guardian, Twitter allows people to add their location to tweets, while Facebook’s check-ins and Messenger’s “share location” function also allow people to track their contacts.
Furthermore, the world’s most popular mobile mapping app, Google Maps, has also been called out for being less than forthcoming about how active its location tracking service really is.
According to a report by PC Mag, Google Timeline, introduced by Google in 2015, allows Google Maps to keep track of every step you take, as long as your phone’s location services are turned on.
But for those individuals that just received Snapchat’s new update, it is possible to modify the service or entirely turn it off.
- Navigate to your settings, which you can access from the new map.
- Scroll down to “Who Can…” => See My Location. (If you navigated from the map, you’ll automatically be taken here).
- Choose who can see your location, or swipe “Ghost Mode” on to disable sharing your location to anyone.
Even police services are advising users to turn on Snapchat’s Ghost Mode.
As location tracking becomes more prevalent, there’s been increasing debate about the role of the law in protecting consumers’ privacy rights. According to a 2013 issue of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, the onus is on the user to inform themselves about the information they relinquish when they use these platforms, including location data.
“Additionally, while the Supreme Court may not endorse GPS-tracking, Internet users may voluntarily opt-in to having their location tracked, whether that occurs through check-ins or the cookies placed on computers or smartphones,” reads the journal.
The journal uses a case study to determine that “social networking users cannot expect to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy when they sign away their rights in privacy policies or post information for public consumption through their friends or any Internet viewers.”
For its part, Snapchat’s support page points out that the Snap Map feature is only updated when the app is being used – “so you don’t have to worry about your location being updated in the background or anything.”
But fair warning: that means that even if you’re just opening the app and not posting anything, your location will still be updated.
Once you’re happy with your settings, you can freely browse events happening around the world. And your posts won’t be shared publicly unless you specifically add it to “Our Story.”
Early indications show many curated events on the new map, and users seem willing to share what they’re up to with the Snapchat community. Will you be joining them?