By: Richard Partheymuller
Privacy is a lie, they say. As matter of fact, in the world of legalese, privacy is a relatively fresh subject for regulation. When it comes to the Internet and the vast umbrella of social media, trying to keep private information away from unwanted eyes becomes an even hairier predicament. Of course, some people would say that it’s simply the times that we live in now. The world is digitized and most of the time, the only person who can squeal about what you had for lunch or the new car you bought, is you. Even with that said, some social media outlets are walking the border between innovative and intrusive.
The popular photo and video app, Snapchat, released a new feature on June 21, 2017, that allows users to use an in-app map to know the exact whereabouts of their followers. The feature vaguely resembles Niantic’s Pokemon GO game, in how the “Snap Map” overlays the real-time locations of anybody in the user’s contact list. The map goes in-depth with details, and will even display street names and images of homes and buildings. Users can pinpoint specific friends on the map by searching for that person’s “Bitmoji,” a cartoon-avatar that usually resembles the user. The map will tell if that person searched is driving, or sleeping, or even if they are listening to music.
Sullivan Leiby, a 19-year-old from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, studies biology at Rowan University, and said that she has some mixed feelings about the feature so far.
“It’s cool, looking at everybody’s Bitmojis and all of your friends and where they are. That just said, at the same time, like the bad thing is it’s a little weird how people can see where you are and I think that some people might abuse that,” Leiby said.
The map does not only show the basic vicinity of the user, but of the entire world as well. Going in-line with the social media motif of making the world a smaller place, Snapchat utilizes “snaps” from across the globe. Using glowing spots on the map, a user can zero-in on any snaps being uploaded to the “Our Story” snaps, where the user voluntarily lets anybody in the world view his or her snaps. This effectively allows for any user to “travel” to see raving parties in Nigeria, bakeries in Beirut, Eid celebrations in the U.A.E., teens playing basketball on Samoa, or even country music concerts in Alaska. Even if a user is not fluent in any of these languages, the feature may be useful in educating people worldwide of each other’s cultures, customs, and may even show how similar we all really are.
As beneficial as this feature is in that perspective, it has received backlash for allowing a person’s location to be available to anybody they follow. Especially in regards to users under 18 and women. Although the app has been under fire for that aspect, it also troubleshoots the dilemma by using a setting called “Ghost Mode,” where a user can hide their location. On the flip side, this allows users to scope out their friends without being noticed. If users feel inclined, they can manually select which friends can see them as well.
Matt Crispe, 20, of Jackson, N.J., and said the feature is “an invasion of privacy.” The athletic training major at East Stroudsburg University, said he feels uncomfortable with the feature’s ability to zero-in on a person’s exact house and/or location.
“I was driving through Belmar the other day, and one kid texted me like “yo, what’re you doing in Belmar?” I was like “how do you even know that?” and sent me a screenshot of like my Snapchat character in Belmar, and I was just like “this is weird,”” Crispe said.
A major cause for concern has been children under 18 who are users of the app. Statistics from 2016 showed that 22 percent of Snapchat users in the U.S. are between the ages of 13 and 17, according to a survey by statista.com. With limited knowledge of whom their children are following, parents have every right to be concerned. On the other hand, the feature does have a way of helping children in this sense as well, according to Crispe.
“It’s just good, like God forbid, a kid gets kidnapped, and they have Snapchat on their phone, and it’s kind of like Locate My iPhone but a little bit easier,” Crispe said.
For every positive, there’s a negative though, of course.
“The downfall to that is that it only updates your position if you open Snapchat,” Crispe said, “It’s definitely good to track someone, like just in case they’re in trouble, but it’s not the most-guaranteed solution.”
Along with parents, law officials are going to be on the lookout for any disturbances involving the feature. John Locasio, 23, of Belvidere, N.J., graduated from Rowan University this past May with a degree in criminal justice. He understands that regulations and protocol are going to be easier said than done. Locasio said that regulation and oversight for these concerns would have to come via Snapchat itself, as law officials “have no jurisdiction over social media.”
Locasio does take a tough stance on the workings of the feature though.
“There needs to be more safeguard for it, you know? There needs to be more checks on it, checks and balances, so that people aren’t being exposed for where they are,” Locasio said.
As Snapchat becomes increasingly more prominent in the US and around the world, users such as Locasio have come to grips with the apparent nature of the times we live in.
“There is nothing private about social media anymore,” Locasio said. “There’s nothing safe about having a live-GPS on you all of the time.”
For more information on the Snap Map, visit the app’s website by clicking here.