Snapchat recently updated its popular app to include a feature called Snap Maps. The feature is supposed to link friends to other friends through location mapping. While Snap Maps is a fun feature for some users, it’s also a feature that’s causing a privacy controversy. Here’s why.
Snap Map comes with a quick video that explains how the feature works. The video informs users that when posting a story to Our Story, map locations will be shown to a user’s friend network (it won’t be shown to people outside of that network). What the video does not explain is that agreeing to use Snap Map means sharing location information regularly.
Every time a user opens Snapchat, Snap Maps will find and locate that user on a map. The app then creates a Bitmoji for other users to see, and friends can zoom in on a location to find another friend. So even if you don’t want someone to see where you are when you open Snapchat, enabling Snap Map means sharing your location information.
A Big Problem
Snapchat has a large user base that consists of teenagers and children that are minors. The fact that the app shares location information unknowingly could be a danger to those younger users. Snapchat has responded to queries about the new location feature noting that the company prides itself on the security and privacy of its users - and that map locations do disappear after eight hours.
But this isn’t enough for some users that did not know they were being tracked to begin with. Some users claim that they did not activate Snap Maps at all, so they did not realize that they were being tracked. Those users that did activate the new feature did not know that they would be tracked every time they opened the Snapchat app.
You can use Snap Maps without showing your Snapchat network where you are at all times. To do this, though, you have to choose ‘Ghost Mode’ when setting up the app initially, or choose the mode through the settings icon (gear) in the top right corner of your Snapchat main screen. Putting yourself in Ghost Mode when you use the app mean that your location information will not be displayed.
A Case of Privacy?
Whether or not Snapchat intentionally did not let users know that they would be tracked when using the app at all times remains to be seen - but it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the company to anger users to this extent (even if it means better targeted advertising). Snapchat has also gone on record in numerous places noting how Snap Maps works and telling users how to get rid of location tracking.
Should Snapchat have included this information in the original Snap Maps video? Absolutely. Was it a case of neglect? Probably. Should you stop using Snapchat? Not necessarily. However, if you have a child that users the app, it’s a really good idea to make sure that they do operate in Ghost Mode regularly.
Then again, anyone that uses Snapchat regularly can easily turn off Ghost Mode, so it’s up to parents to carefully supervise.