Technology shifts and changes so quickly that it can be hard to keep up. Almost every day there are updates to your computers, “patches” to fix software, improvements to the apps on your phone and more. If you are like me, you’ll have automatic updates on so that these changes take place in the background – often overnight – so that when you turn on your device for the day – voila! – new improvements at your fingertips.
But not all updates are created equally – or with your best interests in mind.
A recent Snapchat upgrade added a new feature – Snap Maps. It’s a way to “view Snaps of sporting events, celebrations, breaking news and more from all across the world”. Sounds great, right?
But it’s also a way for you and your friends (or the general Snap user) to share your location with each other. So now, if you are wondering where your friends are and what they are doing, you can seek them out.
It’s super easy to use, just open the Camera screen and “pinch out” like you are zooming out from a photo and Snap Maps will be activated.
From the map you can see snaps from interesting locations and events as well as photos of people that you know or are connected to.
But isn’t that stalking?
It’s rather cool that you can see where your friends are. In fact, Google has variations on this functionality in its maps – and even had the standalone product, Latitude, until it was closed down in 2013. At the time, I had concerns with Latitude and with the data that we uncaringly share with the people who make our phones and create the apps we run on them – and so too do I have concerns with Snap Maps.
Don’t get me wrong, as a marketer, location information can be super useful. And as a person with friends all around the world, I get a particular kick out of knowing where my friends and connections are and what they are doing.
For example, I know my friend Suzanne is travelling in the US at the moment. Thanks to Snap Map I now know that she was just on Mariposa Street in San Francisco. No doubt checking out the local fried chicken shops.
That’s kind of fun. But as a consumer it makes me nervous.
We know that on social media, the concept of “friendship” is fairly loose. There will be a lot of randomness in your friend list – plenty of people who you don’t know, have never met, and probably wouldn’t invite to your home to stay for the weekend. Yet, you can trust them with your location, each and every second of the day.
A warning for parents
As adults, we can make choices about who shares our personal information, location and so on. But parents with children who use Snap Chat may not realise what has become available with the new Snap Map functionality. In fact, most parents won’t know that some children have open privacy settings meaning that anyone can “friend” and connect/share information with them without asking.
Imagine, for example, your child has a group of friends who use Snap Chat to share photos, chat and keep connected outside of school. Then imagine that there’s an incident – like some bullying or bad behaviour – a falling out of some kind.
Thanks to Snap Maps, all your child’s connections (including the bully) will know where your child is whenever they are logged in.
No doubt, parents have asked their children about their connections and “friends”, and have received assurances that “no, I don’t add people I don’t know” … but words and actions are sometimes strangers. In this video, Joey Salads conducts a Snap Map stalking experiment with the parent of a young girl. The results are compelling.
Turn on Ghost Mode to protect your Snap Chat privacy
The only way to stop your location being shared across your Snap Chat network is to enable “Ghost Mode”. You will be prompted for location sharing the first time you upgrade to Snap Maps, but you can also edit your privacy settings later.
If you have children, I’d recommend you enable Ghost Mode immediately. In fact, unless you’re confident that you know your connections well, I’d enable ghost mode on every device. Being location aware can be useful, but data sometimes reveals more than we expect – and there’s no reason for us to turn a blind eye to it.