If you’re a frequent user of Snapchat, you’ve probably noticed their most recent feature: Snapmaps. Snapmaps is similar to the iPhone’s Find My Friends feature that allows users to share their locations with their friends. The location technology doesn’t just show users the city or neighborhood, but is precise enough that I can tell which part of my apartment my roommates are in.
The feature continues Snapchat’s use of Bitmoji, an app Snap Inc bought last year that allows users create an avatar of themselves and send images of the avatar doing or saying different things. A Snapmap user’s location shows up as their Bitmoji avatar. This Bitmoji will be shown doing different things, like driving a car if Snapchat detects a higher speed or holding suitcases if the location is at an airport.
The user’s location is only updated when they use the Snapchat app. However, Snapchat also tells anyone with permission to see the user’s location when the last time the location was updated. There are three settings that users select for Snapmaps: ghost, which prevents anyone from “seeing” you; custom, which allows you to pick which friends can see you; and everyone, so your entire friends list. If the user hasn’t made a selection, Ghost Mode is automatically used.
When I first saw Snapmaps, I was horrified. Having interned with the Family Online Safety Institute, my first thought was how dangerous this could be. Not only could users’ friends find their locations, but the location data has the potential of getting hacked or leaked. I refused to turn it on.
But, being a millennial, I was still intrigued. I checked my map to see which friends had turned on their location and was hooked. I could see where my friends’ offices are, check out where friends from abroad were and even see who my younger sisters were hanging out with. I decided to turn on my location for my current roommates (whom I was already sharing my location with via Find My Friends), my sisters and half a dozen other closer friends.
And I loved it. I loved that when I friend was trying to find parking at my apartment, I could check my Snapmap to make sure he was in the right parking lot. I loved seeing how close my roommate was when she was on the train back to D.C. I loved that Snapmap showed me when my friends in Australia are sleeping and when they left campus for their school break.
In short, I turned into a stalker. I wanted to know everyone’s location.
But when the perspective was flipped and I remembered my selected group of friends could do the same for me, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want people to know who I was hanging out with at all hours or to see that I was spending Saturday night alone in my apartment. Even though the few people I gave permission to see me were my close friends, I wanted my privacy back.
And so the time came for me to turn off my Snapmap location services. The only people that still have permission to “see me” are my roommates, which ironically is for my safety. If I’m going out on a date or walking back from class late at night, I like that they can check in on me and make sure that I’m where I should be. Location sharing isn’t always negative!
I’ve also made more of an effort to check it less. Knowing that certain friends are hanging out without me or that other people are out having fun while I’m at work only makes me feel miserable. While it might be fun to peek in on friends, it’s not worth adding on stress that I never would have had if I didn’t know everyone’s whereabouts.
For parents who are concerned about the feature, you’re right to be. If Snapmap gave me FOMO (fear of missing out) as a 21-year-old, I can only imagine how this feature would have made me feel when I was 14 or 17. And that’s not even considering the security of the feature. If your teenagers use Snapchat, take the time to have a conversation with them about Snapmap so they can understand your concern for both their feelings and their safety.
*Photo courtesy of www.flickr.com