Snapchat has introduced a “whole new way!” (maybe new to Snap: not to Facebook, Apple and Google) for you to “explore the world” and “meet up with friends”: a location-sharing “Snap Map” that shows when nearby friends are…
…at a dance party!
…or a magic show!
…or having their privacy breached and their location leaked because they didn’t realize that Snap posts their location on Snap Map every time they open the app.
Looking at the Snap Map walkthrough you get when you update Snapchat might lead you to believe that you actually have to opt in to having your location shared when you’re at home, say, or maybe walking down a nearby dark alley, or at a best friend’s apartment… even though… huh… didn’t you say you were going out with Cindy to see a movie tonight?
Image credit: Snap Map walkthrough courtesy of Snapchat
But Snapchat is actually posting your location to Snap Map every time you open the app, not just when you share Snaps to Our Story.
Now bear in mind that Snapchat is crazy popular with children and teens.
Users aren’t limited to a map of nearby friends. They can also search for specific locations, such as schools or playgrounds, with the map displaying any public photos or videos sent by students, as pointed out by The Telegraph.
Multiple police forces and child protection services have warned parents to turn off Snap Map on their children’s phones. In the UK, Preston Police had this to say on the department’s Facebook page:
For all the snapchat users on here, in the last few days they have released a new update which connects to your GPS, and automatically (unless activated ghost mode) shows where you are on a map to anyone who is on your friends list and posts can possibly seen publically depending on your settings!!
…Obviously this may cause concern for certain users, particularly those who have young children who use the app.
The Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for the National Society for the Protection of Children:
It’s worrying that Snapchat is allowing under 18s to broadcast their location on the app where it can potentially be accessed by everyone in their contact lists.
With public accounts, this will include those who are not known to the user. This highlights why it’s vital children are automatically offered safer accounts on social media to ensure they are protected from unnecessary risks.
…and this is what the UK Safer Internet Centre had to say:
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.
Given how specific this new feature is on Snapchat – giving your location to a precise pinpoint on a map – we would encourage users not to share their location, especially with people they don’t know in person.
As Preston Police noted, Ghost Mode keeps your location private.
How to turn on Ghost Mode
To change settings, open Snapchat and pinch the screen. That will load Snap Map. When you do it for the first time it should ask you if you want to activate ghost mode. If it doesn’t, click on the icon in the top right-hand corner, where you’ll be able to tick a box to turn on ghost mode, like so:
What other apps are stalkery?
Two years ago, Facebook switched off default location tracking and gave users full control over when and how they share such information.
User choice? What a concept!
In March, Facebook Messenger did, though, enable live location sharing, taking a page from the way that Apple handles it in iOS and Google in Android. Namely, users can tap on the location icon within a message to begin sharing their location. They’ll get a map of their current position and the option to share it live.
Thankfully, you can’t leave that location sharing on indefinitely: a clock starts ticking, and you get 60 minutes to share location. Facebook also gives you an estimate of how long it would take you to meet your friends if going by car and shares that ETA with others.
In February, “Live Location Tracking” was also spotted in WhatsApp, apparently in beta mode.
It was apparently switched off by default, as it should be. WhatsApp also gave users the ability to control how long the sharing continued.
Twitter likes to follow us around, too. To turn that off, this is what you do:
Twitter for iOS
- Go to Settings and tap Privacy
- Tap Location Services
- Locate the Twitter app and tap to select Never
Twitter for Android
- Tap the navigation menu or profile icon
- Tap Settings and privacy
- Under General, tap Location and proxy
- Deselect the checkbox next to Location
Instagram at one point was also providing access to its API to Geofeedia, an app used by police to monitor activists and protesters. Geofeedia was also tapping into APIs at Twitter and Facebook to create real-time maps of social media activity in protest areas. Those maps were used to identify, and in some cases arrest, protesters shortly after their posts became public, including in the Dakota pipeline protests in the US.
In March, Facebook and Instagram turned off the data faucet for that location-fueled surveillance.
For its part, Uber has its own stalker history. In December, with the update that brought us version 3.222.4, Uber began tracking users’ locations constantly when the app’s running in the background. It also asked users to always share their address books. Up until that point, it had only collected location data if a user had the app open.
Obviously, Snapchat’s recent debut into the location-sharing, privacy-jeopardizing realm is only the most recent of a long list of apps that have concerning privacy practices. They’re all a reminder that when there’s an app update, whether to the app or to a phone OS, we should review our settings in case there’s a brand new privacy option with a default you didn’t expect.
Remember: if in doubt, don’t give it out, be it your taxpayer ID, your birth date, or your geolocation. You don’t know who will do what with that information, but we do know that plenty of people do plenty of dangerous things.