Snapchat: Sacrifice your privacy or fade away

26 June 2017 | Pic PR

Intern Rose takes a look at the latest Snapchat update, which sees a controversial new feature included...

Snapchat has recently introduced a controversial map feature that gives users the opportunity to track each other’s location in real time, raising cause for concern among safety and privacy advocates.

In a blog post announcing the update, Snap Inc. enthused: “We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!”

Users can select whether they want to make their location visible to all their friends or just a select group of connections. Snapchat has also confirmed that there is an option to “simply keep it to yourself” with Ghost Mode.

However, the fact that protecting your privacy is referred to as ‘Ghost Mode’ is rather sinister. It perpetuates the idea that if you choose not to use social media, you might as well be invisible. Therefore, impressionable young people may well activate the new feature in fear of missing out.

Naturally, safety experts and parents fear the new feature could be used to stalk or bully others. Although most young people just have their friends on Snapchat, one ‘random’ add could be all it takes for a potential predator to have access to your exact location.

“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,” said child safety group ChildNet International.

Once the app has been updated, every Snapchat user will appear as their personalised bitmoji on the global map. However, the new update also features ‘actionmojis’, another type of avatar that Snapchat automatically creates by analysing the user’s location, time of day or speed of travel. Some actionmojis feature an animated car if the user is travelling at a certain speed.

The map also incorporates a news feature. If lots of people are Snapchatting a major event or breaking news, a patch of colour will appear on the map identifying the hotspot.

Snap Maps is based on technology acquired when Snap Inc. bought social mapping start-up Zenly in late May. This app lets users see where their friends are in real time as well as send them messages. With the sophisticated technology that the app uses to track your location, it’s no wonder that parents and professionals are concerned.

Doubtless, this update will exacerbate the paranoia that social media generates when it comes to friendships and relationships. ‘Liking’ the selfie of someone other than your partner on Instagram can brew distrust in relationships. What happens when you can always check up on their whereabouts? The ability to see where your Snapchat friends are also means that young people may feel excluded if they see their peers out and about without them.

Is this new feature a breach of personal privacy? You don’t have to use Snapchat, so this is debatable. However, Snap Map is undoubtedly an indictment of an increasingly digitalised society, in which the line between public and private is blurred. The question is: How long will it be until Ghost Mode is no longer an option?