Snapchat announced a new feature this week that allows users to see where their friends are posting on a map.
While the new feature may make it easier than ever to find and communicate with friends and check in on what people are up to around the world, some internet safety experts worry it may be another headache for parents.
“From a tech standpoint [Snapchat] really showed up, it’s a super cool feature … but if you are a parent of a child eight to 17, it’s a whole other set of worries because it is so cool and so interactive, and you know everyone is going to flock to it,” said Titania Jordan, the chief parenting officer of digital safety and solution app Bark.
To access the new Snap Map, users simply update their app and are asked whether they want to opt-in to location sharing for all their friends, select friends or whether they choose to "ghost," or remain anonymous. To access the update, pinch to zoom the Snap camera, and a world opens up, showing the location of your friends.
Even if this sounds like something out of the twilight zone for parents, the new feature hones in on opt-in location sharing technology that is already a part of some social media sites, like Facebook messenger, according to Jordan. She points to Apple's "find my friends," which allows users to find the location of those in their contact.
While there are positive aspects of location sharing, parents rightly feel uneasy with the possibility their child is unwittingly letting the wrong person access their location through Snapchat, according to Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely.org, which created a parents guide to Snapchat, and guides to other social media.
"[Location sharing] can be dangerous, because you are giving up your privacy, which is your right to be where you are without others knowing where you are," he said. "And there is a slight -- very slight -- possibility that someone could be wanting to do you harm and knowing your location is a bad idea."
Magid said as with all social media, parents should get involved and ask their kids to explain the app to them and better educate themselves on how it is used.
"The most important thing a parent can do is talk to their child about the use of this feature and either encourage them not to use it all or encourage them to use it very cautiously, only with specific friends," Magid said.
He notes parents should encourage their children to be choosy with the friends they share their location, and to ensure they are friends they know in real life and not cyber friends.
Bark uses algorithms to detect and alert parents to online issues that may affect their children, and Jordan notes that the company is working with Snapchat's API, so they will eventually be able to alert parents if their children may be using the Snap Map in a way that could be dangerous. She said despite how technology companies aim to help parents, they have to do the groundwork themselves.
"Humans can't keep up at the rate [technology] is progressing, so the most important is talking to your children; 'here’s why this isn’t safe,' and give specific use cases," she said.
She notes that another aspect of the new update, is reinforcing the cultural epidemic of FOMO or "fear of missing out" that many experience when they see social media of other people's lives that seem more exciting or fulfilling than their own.
"Right now, it's in your face. What everyone is doing that is cooler than what you are doing, and that can contribute to that 'my life sucks' mentality,'' she said. "So just communicate to your child, people only put the best and brightest of their lives on [social media.] ... They are not going to share that they are in their room crying because they're sad and lonely."
And as for concerns that the Snap Map is constantly updating your location, the map only updates your location when you are perusing from the app, so if you aren't using it you won't show up on the map. According to a statement from Snapchat, the majority of interactions within the app take place between close friends and the company wants to assure its users as well as parents and educators how Snap Map actually works.
“The safety of our community is very important to us and we want to make sure that all Snapchatters, parents and educators have accurate information about how the Snap Map works," Snapchat said in a statement. "With Snap Map, location-sharing is off by default for all users and is completely optional. Snapchatters can choose exactly who they want to share their location with, if at all, and can change that setting at any time. It’s also not possible to share your location with someone who isn’t already your friend on Snapchat."