Police Warn On Privacy Dangers Of Snapchat ‘Snap Maps’ Feature

Police and child safety organisations have warned that a new Snapchat feature, called Snap Maps, may lead young people to broadcast their location whenever the application is running, without their knowledge.

The feature was introduced last week in an update to the Snapchat mobile messaging app, and while users must opt into it, the way Snap Maps is presented may cause confusion, security experts said.

‘Confusing’ presentation

Location sharing is mentioned in the feature’s promotional video and in the initial walkthrough before switching it on, but the information given is vague, said security expert Graham Cluley.

Users might easily think the feature is offering them the option of location-tagging particular Snaps (videos or images) posted to “Our Story”, a global repository introduced in January of this year that any user can contribute to – but that’s not the case, he said.

“The truth is that your location is being monitored and broadcast constantly, as long as you have the app open or are actively using it,” he wrote in a blog post.

Anecdotal reports suggested some users who switched on Snap Maps were unaware their location was being shared to their contacts continuously.

Police warning

Police in Preston, Lancashire, issued an alert regarding the application’s privacy implications.

“This may cause concern for certain users, particularly those who have young children who use the app,” Preston police said in a Facebook post.

Snapchat said in regulatory filings in February that it had about 158 million daily users, with most being younger people.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said it was “worrying” that Snapchat was allowing people under 18 to broadcast their location to people on their contact lists.

“With public accounts, this will include those who are not known to the user,” the group stated. “This highlights why it’s vital children are automatically offered safer accounts on social media to ensure they are protected from unnecessary risks.”

Users’ options

The UK Safer Internet Centre voiced similar concerns and advised users not to share their location.

Snapchat parent company Snap emphasised that the feature is under users’ control.

“With Snap Map, location-sharing is off by default for all users and is completely optional,” the company said in a statement. “Snapchatters can choose exactly who they want to share their location with, if at all, and can change that setting at any time.”

The feature can be disabled in Snapchat’s settings or by disabling the application’s ability to access a smartphone’s location in the settings for the device.

What do you know about the history of mobile messaging? Find out with our quiz!

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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