Popular photo messaging app, Snapchat has recently launched a brand-new feature, Snap Map, that lets users share their location with friends and online contacts. Although many have raised obvious privacy and security concerns surrounding this, could Snap Map actually help to make its users safer?
Firstly, let’s take a look in more detail at what Snap Map does. Users can mark where they are on a map and post videos from their location to show their friends what they’re up to. The idea is that people can see what their friends are doing so they can keep in touch and meet up.
Of course, the flipside to this that people may not want others, or certain individuals to see where they are and turn up unexpectedly. It’s not hard to imagine the difficult scenarios this could create socially, but much worse is what could happen if this information fell into the hands of someone who wanted to do harm.
From what could seem like harmless fun, it is easy for someone to build up an accurate picture of where a person lives, works and spends their free time. This is particularly worrying when considering Snapchat’s young audience, with around 45% of users aged between 18 and 24. Security experts have expressed concern that this feature could even be exploited to target the young and vulnerable.
For this reason, Snapchat has made user’s locations only available to their friends, allowing each user to choose who can view their position. However, as with social media in general, there is a tendency for people to befriend others online that they may not necessarily know well enough to trust. Also, although you can drill down to select who can view what, in reality many users don’t bother, as they fail to understand the risk they are putting themselves at.
IT Security expert Brian Honan expands on this, “People need to understand the risks of allowing those you don’t know well into your internet circle of friends. Our lives are now so intertwined with the Internet that we need to better understand how our locations and other aspects of our lives can be inadvertently exposed online by the apps and systems we use.”
Although the introduction of Snap Map has sparked many fears that it could be dangerous, could the feature also potentially save a life?
Recently, an amateur photographer in Liverpool, Dave, (not his real name) became trapped in mud when trying to get close to the water for a better picture. As Snap Map automatically logged his location when he opened the app, it registered him as being in the sea thus alerting his friends to the situation. Luckily for Dave, he was accompanied by a friend who called the emergency services, but had he been alone what was an amusing incident could have easily had a very different outcome.
In reality, when an emergency strikes the first thing most people with a phone to hand would do is dial 999, but it’s not always that straightforward. In certain scenarios making an emergency call just isn’t possible, or may not be appropriate. Perhaps someone may feel their safety is at risk but the circumstances may not warrant an emergency call at that stage. For example, if somebody was travelling alone in a taxi and became anxious about the driver, they may want to let somebody know that they feel in danger so that a trusted person can make sure they get to their destination safely. In this case, having a way to easily track their location would be very useful and gives peace of mind for those involved.
This feature could also potentially be used for parents who want to keep tabs on their kids and make sure that they are safely where they should be.
Using location tracking for personal safety reasons is nothing new. There are a number of apps and devices that do this, so in the event of an emergency the user can easily be located by the emergency services. Applications such as Skyguard’s lone working app use GPS as an added layer of protection, so if an incident occurs whilst an employer is working alone, when they raise an alert, their exact location can be passed on to the emergency services efficiently. This information is stored securely on an online portal which is only accessible by Skyguard’s Controllers and those with the relevant authorisation within an organisation.
As highlighted in this article, knowing a person’s location through Snap Map can indeed contribute to their safety in certain scenarios. However, this has to be weighed up against the many significant personal security and privacy issues associated with sharing this type of information via social media. There are other methods of tracking an individual’s location that may be more appropriate or relevant depending on the circumstances.
If you are a Snapchat user, there are a number of ways to increase privacy when using Snap Map: