Snapchat’s Snap Map Location Sharing Service
Snapchat is something of a darling of the social media industry. The business has rapidly grown from a humble disappearing-message service into something of a marketing powerhouse. Daily user numbers overtook Twitter in the summer of 2016 and the company has been building and innovating upon its core service. Over the years Snapchat has added additional features including the ability to send videos and produce stories, plus a myriad of filters to change how we look and sound. Today it’s possible to add your own sponsored custom filters for events and similar.
If you are unfamiliar with Snapchat, the core offering is that it is an instant messenger application that only permits messages to be showing for a limited amount of time. The classic Snapchat message consists of a still image or short video clip annotated with text, which is removed from devices after a small number of seconds. If a screen capture is taken, so as to preserve the image for longer, the sender is advised of this.
In June 2017, Snapchat introduced a new location service, which if enabled shows your Snapchat friends your pinpoint location. As it uses GPS, this service can be as accurate as the room you are in when you send the Snapchat message. This new feature is called Snap Map, and you can access this from the camera screen by pinching the interface. On the face of it there is nothing new here: many social media platforms are able to share locations, and installing applications such as Facebook or Twitter onto a modern Android device makes this very clear. In Snapchat, the location data is refreshed when the application is running and it disappears around eight hours later, although location data presented to the My Stories lasts for about a day before that disappears, too. Nevertheless, many people are upset at the Snap Map feature, citing privacy and security reasons.
So what’s the big deal with the Snapchat location sharing service? The location sharing function is turned off by default and it can be used to see where people are publically posting the most. This could be used to find out about local events. Location details are only shared with Snapchat friends, and users have complete control over who gets to see their location.
The main perceived problem with the Snap Map is that users may not understand what, exactly, they are agreeing to. Snapchat is used by adults and children, and some users have a habit of not reading warning messages and instead accepting and agreeing to anything in their favourite app. I’m sure we all know somebody who has managed, or maybe still does manage, to get into trouble by tapping “yes” at every prompt on their device. For the potentially vulnerable user constantly using Snapchat, this could provide a near-real time location for any of their friends on the service. It sounds creepy enough, but for some smartphone users, Snapchat has replaced text messages and other instant message services. It’s how people communicate with new and old friends alike and it would be easy to figure out where somebody lives, works, goes to school or generally hangs out.
Now imagine combining a Craigslist transaction with a complete stranger, but communicating via Snapchat.
What’s the answer? Stopping businesses from developing services that share locations is not the answer, but instead, educating and explaining to customers the potential risks involved in how the application is used. And in the case of Snap Map, if you are in any doubt, use Ghost Mode to disable the location sharing service.