Is the Snapchat ‘stalker mode’ a danger to your kids?

Snap Maps was launched in an app update last week and has since been condemned by child safety groups who claim it could lead to an increased risk of cyber bullying and stalking.

So firstly, what exactly is Snap Maps? Well basically it uses GPS on your smartphone to locate where you are and then place an icon on a map showing where you are and what you are likely to be doing (so, for example, if you are at a cinema it will surmise you are watching a movie or if you are moving at speed on a road you are traveling etc.). The icon changes based upon what activity the app believes you are doing. Creepy huh?

In the official launch blurb from Snap Inc, they make the feature sound completely innocuous:

“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!”

Makes it sound pretty harmless right? Well it’s not according to a statement from child safety group Childnet International who claimed:

“Given how specific this new feature is on Snapchat – giving your location to a precise pinpoint on a map – we would encourage users not to share their location, especially with people they don’t know in person. 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”

Actress and presenter Nadia Sawalha was so alarmed by the introduction of Snap Maps she recorded a message with her teenage daughter as a stark warning to both parents and children. She uploaded it to YouTube yesterday evening and in less than 24 hours the video has been viewed more than 2.1 million times and has almost 80,000 shares. The 7600+ comments are largely from concerned parents questioning why Snapchat have introduced the feature without consent and made it opt-out rather than opt-in. However, Snap insist that Snap Maps are switched off by default although many people insist that isn’t the case and the functionality setting was ‘on’ when the update occurred.

It’s also clearly a concern for educational establishments as I personally found out last last week. We have received warnings from both of the schools that my daughters attend asking us to be mindful of the function and providing detailed instructions on how to turn off the feature. It is relatively easy to put Snap Maps into what is called ‘Ghost Mode’ and if you are reading this as a concerned parent then click on this link for the instructions on how to put either your phone, or those of your kids, into ‘Ghost Mode’.

Even the Police have cited concerns over the usage of Snap Maps, for under-18’s in particular, with one force issuing a statement (somewhat ironically) on their Facebook page which says:

“Obviously this may cause concern for certain users, particularly those who have young children who use the app”

So what do you think? Are parents right to be concerned about Snap Maps pinpointing the whereabouts of their children? Is this just another example of how our privacy is constantly being eroded by technology? Were Snapchat wrong to release the update without adequate consumer consultation? Or do you believe that the media is blowing the situation out of proportion and Snap Maps is just a harmless addition to a popular communications application? As ever, I’m keen to hear your views…

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Steve Blakeman is Managing Director - Global Accounts for OMD based in London / Paris. He was named by LinkedIn as a Top 10 Writer for Marketing & Social for 2015 (Top Voices) and also 'Agency Publisher of the Year' for EMEA. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter