In June 2017, Snapchat rolled out a new opt-in called Snap Map, that allows users to share their location with their friends on a map. Snapchat’s introduction video to Snap Map seems to position the benefits of this new app as a way of collecting common Snaps from a particular location or event. But what Snapchat doesn’t seem to make clear is that every time you open Snap Map the app will share your precise location with anyone on your friends list. The agreement to install the Snap Map app consists of clicking through 3 screens. The screen dialog is vague about what sharing your location really implies, in that it is revealing your location each time you open the app. With the popularity of Snapchat among a younger demographic, journalists and watchdog organizations have referred to the Snap Map app with indignation, as ‘stalking software’.
A new Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich study takes a look at a range of apps including Snap Map that allows social network users to be monitored, often without their knowing it. LMU Professor Neil Thurman notes that Snap Map is just one of many apps that monitor social network users whereabouts precisely, without them knowing it. Apps like Dataminr, Echosec, Geofeedia, Picodash, and SAM, are aimed at professional users, and far exceed Snap Map in their surveillance capabilities. A few of these stalking like apps., even track people over time and “across multiple social networks.” The now defunct Geofeedia allowed police agencies to covertly monitor individuals and social media groups, who the company described as being an “overt threat”. That is until there was enough public outrage that the social networks cut off Geofeedia from their data feeds in response to the negative publicity.
Sadly Thurman’s paper published in Digital Journalism, notes that according to an article in Forbes magazine, there is such a large volume of apps that have been built on leading social media networks, that they can’t proactively weed out those doing social surveillance. Big brother and anyone else with some technology savvy, are watching us and we as participants on social media are making it easier for them to follow us.