“Snap Mapping”

Snapchat’s new geo-location service raises privacy concerns


Snapchat is the latest social media network to add a live location-sharing option to its platform. Called “Snap Map,” the new geo-location feature allows users to broadcast their whereabouts on a world map visible to the user’s friend list in the form of a cartoon avatar. The location sharing is highly precise, allowing spectators to zoom close enough on an avatar to estimate someone’s position along a specific city block assuming the smartphone is on their person.

Similar to Snapchat’s “Discover” feature, major current events and breaking news appear on the map as well—the Wimbledon Championship, for example. People at a certain event can post directly on Snapchat’s public “Our Story” and, depending on content and appropriateness, may have their footage featured on the map in the form of a crowdsourced video feed.

Public snaps aren’t limited to high-profile locations. Tap anywhere on the map to view stories from people in the area, friends or not. A heat map overlay is included to indicate places with high concentrations of stories a user may want to check out, like the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Snap Map is not without controversy. Users not operating in “Ghost Mode” may not realize Snapchat updates a user’s exact location on the map every time he or she opens the app—not just when they post stories. Snapchat is marketing the feature as a fun, interesting way to keep up with friends, but many users are freaked out by the perceived intrusion on their privacy.

Schools in particular have reacted with apprehension, warning parents that their children, many of whom use Snapchat regularly throughout the day, may be unknowingly broadcasting their location to people they don’t necessarily know. The map is detailed enough to allow a user with malicious intent to infer home addresses or regular routes of travel.

Snap Map’s development was made possible by Snapchat’s recent (and quiet) acquisition of French social mapping application Zenly for more than $250 million. The map itself is powered by three geospatial imagery providers: DigitalGlobe, Mapbox, and OpenStreetMap

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