Hey GKISsers. I’m in Berlin (!) for a security conference, and my email feed is alive with press inquiries for my opinion about how Snapchat’s new Snap Map feature threatens child safety. Because I try to have a life, I was unable to respond quickly. But I’m on it now, AND I have a unique opinion about why I’ve chosen Snapchat over Facebook on this trip for privacy reasons. Huh? You may ask.
Let’s start with Snapchat’s big news
Here’s the skinny: With the new 10.11 Snapchat update, your teen’s worldwide location can be tracked real time using the new feature Snap Maps. That means anybody can pull up a map and see exactly where your child is posting from in the moment with such precision one can see which part of a building your child is in. Location updates only when Snapchat is open and will disappear from the map if the app hasn’t been opened for several hours.
Their location shows up as an “Actionmoji” on a map – an avatar doing Snapchat’s best guess of activity typical of that location (like sitting under an umbrella at the beach or listening to music). Snapchat also notes your speed of travel and whether or not your headphones are plugged into your phone. If your child views the map, she can see where her friends are at anytime, and what she is missing out on. She may also see the locations of Snapchat users she does not know for snaps submitted to “our story,” like a collection of snaps at a concert or sports event. Amazing to get a snapchat view of events occurring real time around the world.
In order to create this new feature, Snap bought social media mapping startup Zenly in May of this year. Snapchat’s press release states, “We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!”
What does that mean for our kids?
It means that today, not tomorrow, your kids need to select the ghost feature for Snap location sharing, or their Snapchat buddies may be able to track their exact location real time.
For the FOMO (fear of missing out) of adolescence, this feature is cool. Imagine seeing where friends and other Snap users are at all times, maybe inspiring Friday night plans or providing options about where to go. Also, if there are lots of Snapchat posts in one location, a patch of color appears to identify the hotspot. If friends are all in one group, you can even kick off a group chat. How cool is that? But let me be a huge mom-like buzzkill and paint a picture about what that could mean based on terrifying human trafficking scenarios I’ve seen in my office:
Impulsive Snap from your daughter: “<pouty face> alone again on a Friday night”
Snap maps identifies her bedroom address with a map to every creeper your daughter happened to friend in order to get her numbers up.
Knock at the door
I know that sounds dramatic, but it happens more than we’d like to think. Check out my GKIS article to learn how pimps and predators search out teens on social media to groom them for a face-to-face meeting. Imagine your daughter eventually agreeing to meet a predator who’s been wooing her for weeks for promised romance, tenderness, gifts, and understanding (what all young girls dream about), resulting in her being drugged and locked in a room so her new pimp can arrange a series of rapes by paying customers. I sincerely apologize for the graphic representation of truth, but honestly parents, we need to face the facts to get our GetKidsInternetSafe.
On a less scary note, there’s also a cyberbully risk when kids can see exactly which get-togethers they were excluded from.
What can you do to help keep your child safe?
- If you’ve agreed to Snapchat for your teen, download the app and check it out so you can set up an informed digital contract with ongoing educational dialogue. Here is my GKIS article to help with Snapchat basics (update with Snap Maps pending).
- Require that your child select appropriate privacy options on Snapchat. When you are on the Snapchat camera home screen, pinch out to get to Snap Maps. Tap on the settings gear in the top right hand corner. Select who you want to share your location with (a select group of friends, all Snapchat friends, or no friends at all – ghost mode). Obviously, I recommend that the ghost mode option “no friends at all” be selected. If friends-only gets selected, have a discussion about what that might mean in regard to friending strangers, frenemies, or what may happen if there is a falling out with a friend.
- Keep a dialogue going to stay in the loop and model that you are a go-to consultant for social media and Internet challenges. Mistakes are inevitable, and you want to be a calm and knowledgeable resource for your child. No shame, no blame.
- Turn the location option off for your smartphone camera to avoid default geotagging on all photos.
- Finally, join me in pressuring the government to require social media apps to offer SAFE ACCOUNTS for use under 18. These accounts would be locked on highest privacy settings with location turned off.
You might be wondering why I don’t simply red light Snapchat with risks like these? I yellow light Snap, because it is a pretty amazing social media app that even I use with friends on occasion. I even prefer it for my activities right now.
Why did I choose Snapchat over Facebook for security reasons this week?
I mentioned that I’m in Berlin. As an avid Facebook user I wanted to share photos of this amazing experience I’m having with friends and family. The problem? I wasn’t particularly comfortable advertising to my 400+ FB friends that my home sat empty. Yes I keep my buddy list culled to friends and family, but I have added some bloggers and business people I particularly admire as well as high school friends. I can’t be 100% sure my privacy is secure. On Snapchat I have far fewer followers.
My carefully culled buddy list and convenient Snapchat story option (with creative filters) is the perfect format to send fun pics of me braving the metro in Paris on my own, wearing wooden clogs in Amsterdam, and sharing my Berlin taxi driver’s impressive road rage. In other words, on this occasion I think Snapchat was more secure than Facebook. PLUS my images go away. I don’t have to hire the 13 year-old across the street to delete my photos one-by-one, because I share TOO MUCH and that digital exhaust follows me for years. An ongoing saved photo stream is just too intimate. AND once posted, Facebook owns that content. Of course, Snapchat is reputed to also keep images for months on their server even after disappearing.
There you have it. I am not entirely Internet safe by choice, which occasionally has me worried amongst these intense security experts in Berlin who’s digital footprints are nil for good reason. They know the worst-case scenarios and made their best decisions. Are you making yours? And more importantly, are your teens posting safely?
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty