You Can Calm Down About Snapchat’s Snap Map
Snapchat just launched a new Snap Map feature that allows users to track their friends’ locations in real time. The app uses GPS and phone usage data to determine and share users’ real time location. It’s accurate to the point of showing exactly where, on a street, a user is, and as you move it automatically updates. Terrifying, no?
Chill out, pearl-clutcher.
To test how concerning this new feature is, we decided to give it a spin. And here’s the thing: The very first time you open Snap Map, you are given three settings options: Ghost Mode — the default — in which no one can see your location (but you can see others’ if they’re not also in Ghost Mode); My Friends, in which all Snapchat friends see your real-time location; or Select Friends, which allows you share your location with only the friends you choose.
If your kid has chosen to share their location, either with all or some friends, it’s easily corrected – tap the settings icon (the gear symbol) in the top right corner of Snap Map and then simply select Ghost Mode. It’s important to note that this settings change can be made at any time.
Then, have a conversation about online safety and how the world doesn’t need to know second-by-second movements. Skip the spectre of kidnapping and child exploitation that haunts you. Try a few comments about the allure of mystery. Or try reminding them that giving Snapchat their location data only makes a rich corporation even richer by selling that information to other companies. “You know how you want your privacy at home? Keeping your phone GPS turned off gives you that same kind of privacy.” Instead, encourage Ghost Mode and help them define specific times when sharing their location with select friends might be useful – to coordinate a meet-up of a big group, perhaps – as long as a return to Ghost Mode follows.
There have been a lot of rumours about Snap Map circling wildly among parents, and it’s understandable to be concerned or confused. To help you parse them, here are the main points of what happens when users do choose to share their location with friends, as reported by TechCrunch:
- If you are choosing to share your location on the Map, your location is updated every time the Snapchat app is opened.
- If a Snapchatter chooses to share their location with all of their friends on Snapchat, the app will remind them of that choice periodically to make sure they are still comfortable with this.
- Only mutual friends can see each other on the Map.
- Snapchat will delete precise location data after a short period of time. (This period of time was not specified.) Some more general location data may be retained a little longer (this time was also not specified), but the company says that is also subject to regular deletion.
- If you tap on your friend, you will see when their location was updated (i.e., 1 hour ago, 2 hours ago). Their location reflects where they last opened Snapchat.
- A friend’s location will remain on the Map for up to 8 hours if they do not open the app again, causing their location to update. If more than 8 hours has passed and a Snapchatter has not opened the app, their location will disappear from the Map entirely.
But don’t write off Snap Map as innately horrible. While experimenting with it, we clicked on some of the map’s ‘hot spots’ where lots of users have submitted recent snaps to the app’s “Our Story” collection. (Tagging snaps to “Our Story” only collates them for any user, friend or not, to see; users’ locations are updated for their friends regardless, unless they’re in Ghost Mode. This has been a point of confusion for many users.)
As it happened at the time of writing this article, there was a sale at the local mall and we watched some hardened discount-seekers in action. Hardly breaking news or a productive way to spend time (unless you’re an anthropologist), but it’s not difficult to imagine how Snap Map might change the way we report and consume news of real-time, unexpected events, coordinate protests and parties, and in general, know what’s going on in the community around us. That’s hardly a bad thing.
But if you leave with anything, leave with this thought: Remember the rise (and fall) of FourSquare, the app that let you ‘check in’ to places and was eventually absorbed by Facebook? Yeah, neither do we, really. Shared location tracking has been tried many times by social media — and has always faded from popularity as users realize that, when you invite people to stalk you, some people will actually take you up on the offer. Snap Map? This too shall pass.
Until it does, make sure your kid turns on Ghost Mode, and everything will be fine.