23 Jul 2017
3 min read
What is the Snap Map? It seems kinda scary that everyone can see my location. Should I turn the feature off?
— Samar Sharma
Huge tech companies often come up with products and features no one asked for, addressing problems that don’t exist—it’s solutionism at its worst. Snapchat is back at it again with yet another feature, which makes you go “...why?” at first, followed by “oh, it’s kinda cool” and eventually “how do I turn this thing off!?”. Snap Map is a location-sharing feature within Snapchat that the company describes as “a whole new way to explore the world!”. I personally describe it as “a whole new way to stalk your friends by tracking their precise GPS location in real time while you hide behind the veil of online anonymity!”. The basic idea with Snap Map is pretty simple: whenever you open the Snapchat app, the app pinpoints your location and adds a little avatar called Bitmoji on the map for all your friends to see. Snapchat advertises the feature as a fun way to see who’s nearby to allow you to make spontaneous plans to hang out. It also serves as a way to see what places are hot and happening around town and across the globe. Naturally, only people you are friends with can see your location, and even then you can blacklist or whitelist certain users from seeing you.
While many seem to like this whole map thing, unsurprisingly, it has led to concerns over privacy. It’s totally understandable if you don’t want all your friends to know exactly where you are at all times. I certainly don’t. You can easily turn on ‘Ghost Mode’, which removes you from the map: Snapchat isn’t really forcing anyone to use the Snap Map, for obvious reasons. Now for the Orwellians who whipped out their tinfoil hats as soon as they heard the word “GPS” and “tracking”, no, ‘the government’ (probably) isn’t tracking you. However, their concerns aren’t completely unfounded. Advertisers are willing to pay big bucks to get access to users’ location data, presumably to show you more relevant ads. Snapchat’s business model is simple: advertisers are the real customers, your data is the currency, you are the product. If you’re worried about all that, don’t allow the app access to location services, or turn off location services completely. Also, there are actual practical reasons why you might want to turn off location services. The Snapchat app is notorious for its atrocious battery usage, and adding a constant GPS signal into the mix has made things worse. And finally, the real reason why you might want to turn it off: when you’re out and about with your friends and don’t want your ‘friends’ to know about it. Ultimately, if you properly set up all the privacy features to allow only your closest friends to see you on the map, it can be pretty fun, and it’s important to note that you can simply turn it off if you want to.