If you have a teenager or perhaps even a tween, it's a good bet that they have Snapchat on their phone. The app is so popular that Facebook has been playing catch up with its most famous features, and is rumoured to soon be launching a live group chat it hopes will be the teen app of choice on those evenings they all get (virtually) together for a chat.
It's not new that Snapchat tracks your location, as do many other apps, but recently Snapchat made a new update which means that your contacts can now see your exact location, down to exactly where you live. Snap Map uses not only your location but the speed you are travelling if you're moving, and your phone usage to pinpoint exactly where you are. Not only that, they may even be able to see what you are doing.
When in Snap Map, you can search for locations, for example schools, and see videos and pictures that users located there have posted. Even when you have tracking turned off, the pictures and videos you have posted in Snapchat's public 'Our Story' and tagged to that building will still be visible on the map. If you are in a large building it enables your app friends to locate exactly where in the building you are. The reason for this functionality, according to Snapchat, is to enable friends to locate each other when meeting up but it has rung alarm bells with parents. The possibilities for checking up on or stalking partners and ex-partners have also caused concern.
Snapchat have said that Snap Map only shares information with the people users have designated 'friends' on the app, but as we all know not everybody on our friends list is somebody we actually know. Schools have expressed worry that over a period of time, detailed knowledge of home addresses and habits could be built up about users who keep the app switched on. As a social media manager, I emailed my children's secondary school about this last week and they were very concerned. They issued guidance to parents and to students highlighting the safeguarding issues and giving instructions on how to turn off the tracking capability if you still wished to use the app.
Even the NSPCC has expressed concern over Snap Map and how Snapchat neglected to give instructions on how to use it - or not use it - before launch. Police forces have also expressed concern, and a Facebook video posted by Loose Women's Nadia Sawalha about it has clocked up 26million views and been shared over 770,000 times.
While Snap says that the majority of interaction on Snapchat takes place between close friends, it's actually pretty easy to add someone. People share their snapchat handles on other social media platforms which means someone can request to be added. It's also possible to add someone if you know their mobile number. And while Snap's guidelines prohibit under 13s from joining Snapchat, there's little being done to stop them joining. Ask around in any Year 6 class and I guarantee you will find plenty of children who are on Snapchat, perhaps even without parental knowledge.
Snap Map is an opt-in feature, and you can turn tracking off by putting your account into what's called Ghost Mode. To do this pinch the screen when in photo mode to bring up the app. Tap on the settings cog and tap Ghost Mode to disable location sharing.
The worrying issue for parents is that teens are notorious for not doing what they are told. My own children have not opted in to Snap Map but who knows If peer pressure will lead them to do so in the future? If all your friends are together and showing themselves as so in Snap Map wouldn't you want to join them? Let's face it, like everything else social media-related, your children almost certainly knew about the app before you did.
Cathy Wassell is a Social Media Strategist at Socially Contented, a Social Media consultancySuggest a correction