Snapchat's new feature is not only creepy, it's dangerous
Please switch to Ghost Mode...
George Orwell's book 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' references posters that say, "Big Brother is watching you".
The novel, published in 1949, is set in a dystopian future of 1984 in a world of perpetual war, government surveillance and public manipulation.
The words 'Big Brother' have since been used
But it's not just Big Brother who's watching anymore; if you're a user of Snapchat's new Snap Map feature, everyone is watching.
What is Snap Map?
Snap Map uses geolocation to let you see your friends see your Snapchat Bitmoji on a map, and lets them see where you are as well, if you let it. The default setting is off, but a number of my friends (20+) are using the feature daily.
The little avatar follows you on the map where you move and it also allows you to let specific people see your location if you wish.
Your location updates every time you open the app.
While there are no real safety issues with sharing your location with close friends and family, the danger is that many of us are not close friends with many of the people who follow us on Snapchat.
The new feature has raised concerns among world safety experts who've expressed their belief that it could be used to stalk or bully others.
“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,” said child safety group Childnet International in a post on their site.
“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.”
Police in the UK and the US have raised concerns over the feature on the app.
Preston Police said on its Facebook page: "Obviously this may cause concern for certain users, particularly those who have young children who use the app."
The Minneapolis Police Department said in a post: “Snapchat has a lot of young users on it. If your children use Snapchat, please check to ensure that they have their location set to ‘ghost mode,’ that way no one can see where they are.”
When contacted by JOE, An Garda Síochana said that while they "cannot comment on services provided by specific online entities" they advise members of the public to act responsibly online at all times.
At the time of writing this piece, I can see on Snap Maps that two of my friends are currently together at a shopping centre in Galway. Another one is sitting in the office I work in, and lo and behold, when I look around, there they are.
While the option to share your location is just that, an option, we're not entirely comfortable with all of our Snapchat friends knowing where we are at every moment of every day,
We're not naive enough to think that these apps aren't quietly monitoring our location on a daily basis, but there's something different about that information being readily available to anyone in your Snapchat contacts.
What you can do
Internet safety website Webwise.ie issued the following advice for people using the app.
- Choose your location setting: Consider using the Ghost Mode or selecting close friends, this will give you more control over who can see you. If you choose the Friends setting – Ensure you review your friends list. Do not share your location with people you do not know in real life.
- Location-sharing services can give other users a clear picture of the places you regularly visit (home, school, etc.). Consider whether this is information you want to share with others.
- If you choose to share a story using the ‘Our Story’ feature anyone can view that story regardless of what sharing setting you choose for Snap Map. Consider how much information you want people to see. For advice on talking to your child about what they share online go to: webwise.ie/parents/talking-points-posting-sharing-online/