If you’ve been on social media today, you may like me have been inundated with people sharing Nadia Sawalha’s video warning parents about Snap Maps, the new tracking functionality (for want of a better term) baked into the latest Snap Chat update. The 2 minute video has been viewed over 6,000 times in less than a day, so it’s obviously causing a lot of concern.
And indeed it should! If you have only read this far to see whether I plan to support or pooh-pooh the concerns, the answer is…both. As usual, life in today’s digital world isn’t quite as simple as all that.
We first flagged the issue when we shared this BBC article ten days ago. As I wrote, “Not for the first time, geotagging adding unnecessary layer of risk”. Snapchat is incredibly popular among schoolchildren (and the age limit of 13 is often disregarded). In a nutshell, the new functionality allows friends (or everyone in the whole world, or nobody at all, depending on your settings) to see where you were the last time you used Snapchat, where you have shared photos or videos publicly to ‘Stories’, to view them and see where they were posted. And when I say where, I mean exactly where, on a highly detailed streetmap.
The privacy concerns are obvious and are all the more concerning because Snap Chat is so prevalent among young people. I had a quick look and it did indeed seem rather scary on several levels.
But there is good news. For a start, after featuring on mainstream news a few weeks ago, online-safety news is being shared by a celebrity (now gone up to 7.5k views just while I’ve been writing this) and lots of parents who might not necessarily be reached by traditional channels are stopping to think about what their children are doing online. That can only be good news – and this is a great time for schools to offer online-safety support to parents (often a seemingly thankless task).
Secondly, on this particular issue, it is perfectly simple to resolve and to change your Snapchat settings (here’s a handy link from the Snap team to share for that).
But given everything I’ve just said, we do need to guard against a couple of things: we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that working out what to do about Snapchat is enough (or that banning it, which I am not suggesting anyway, solves the problem). The same issues exist with a myriad of apps: remember Instagram has geotagging turned on as a default for most users; so we need to fashion a thoughtful approach to educating young (and old) users. Sounds tricky, but it can be done. Just don’t panic!
One more thing though – there is a reason companies develop these features: they are popular with young people! So let’s be aware of the issues, but stay positive to make a digital difference.