'My daughter (13) uses Snapchat but there's a new Map feature. Will this expose her to unwanted attention?'
Question My daughter uses Snapchat a lot with her friends but there seems to be a new feature that identifies her on some sort of map. She's only 13 and I don't want her to be exposed to unwanted attention. What should I do?
Answer The feature you're talking about is called 'Snapchat Map' - it's supposed to let Snapchat users see where their friends are so they can spontaneously meet up or add a bit more context to their messaging or 'stories' (short video blogs).
Obviously, the thought of a 13-year-old girl's presence suddenly appearing on a public internet map is alarming to a parent. But it doesn't really work like that, at least not by default.
To use Snapchat Map, users have to go looking for the feature and switch it on. (Although some users say that they were prompted by the app to try it out.) If you don't do this, you won't appear on any map.
Even if you switch it on, you'll be asked to choose exactly who can see you on the map. Here, you have three possible options. The first is "my friends", meaning your position is shared with established 'friends'. If you choose this option, a small cartoon avatar representing you will overlay the geographic location you're in whenever you open and use Snapchat. The other two sharing options on Snapchat Map are "select friends", where you have to manually pick friends you'll allow to see your location, and "ghost mode", which hides your presence but lets you see where your (fully participating) friends are on the map.
Of these options, the one that parents may be worried about is the first choice: "my friends". That is the most public version possible. Obviously, the concern is that teenagers sometimes allow connections to social media friends they've never physically met or know little about. The lurking fear is that one's child inadvertently becomes 'friends' with a predator and then that child makes his or her physical presence visible on a map.
However, know that there are a few basic safeguards built in specifically so that this doesn't happen. The first one is that location-sharing is off by default. That means that Snapchat isn't putting you on the map as a new core part of the service. It's not like ads on Facebook or Twitter, things baked into the system that you can't avoid.
The second safeguard is that even if you choose the most public "my friends" map option, you only show up on the map when you're actually in the app and using it. In other words, if you have your phone off or it's on and you're not using Snapchat, you're not visible on the map.
There is a third point worth making, especially for those who aren't that familiar with how Snapchat works (which is almost everyone in Ireland over the age of 45). You can't share your location with Snapchat Map to anyone who is not already your 'friend'. This is an important point - Snapchat isn't built to make you as publicly searchable as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can't really look people up on it. It's primarily made as a messaging and video blog service where everything posted or sent is deleted after seconds, minutes or hours.
Having said all that, there are things you can ask your daughter to do. If she wants to use Snapchat Map, ask her to use it in 'ghost mode' (explained above). If you want to definitively remove any location-tracking of your daughter by Snapchat, ask her to turn off the 'location' switch next to the Snapchat app in your phone's settings.
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