Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Five reasons police think you should turn on ‘Ghost mode’ in Snapchat

Snapchat, an app which allows users to share photos and videos which delete themselves after a few seconds, is used by 166 million people worldwide. The latest Snapchat release has seen police issuing hasty warnings to users of the app, with the new ‘Snap Map’ feature raising a range of questions relating to privacy. What are some of the issues that police (and others) might have with this seemingly fun update?

1. Stalking/harassment

Revealing your exact location to your Snapchat friends may make stalkers’ jobs easier, if you aren’t aware of the different privacy settings available for location-sharing while using the app. You might have had a particularly bad Tinder date and never want to see that person again, or more seriously, a violent ex-partner who you need to avoid. The Snap Map can lead people right to your front door, or if you’re using the app often and have location­-sharing switched on, you could be letting people know exactly where you are, even more often throughout your day.

Snap Map
Screenshot of Snap Map taken by Heather Saunders.

2. Theft

Making your location public rather than private means you really don’t know who is watching your Snaps. Pleased with your new Xbox and wanting to share a photo with the rest of the world? You might want to think twice, as you could be an opportunist thief’s next victim, particularly if you’re Snapchatting a week on holiday in a different country, suggesting your home is empty and an easy target.

3. Child protection

Children aged 13 and above are allowed to download and use Snapchat (with parental permission), and indeed teenagers are some of the most prolific users of the app. Recent data shows that in the United States, 59% of 12 to 17 year olds were active on a monthly basis on Snapchat, and it is similarly popular among teens in the United Kingdom. Police and parents alike are worried that the new update could leave children vulnerable to predators, with strangers being able to find out exactly where they are.

4. Fraud

Just how much personal data are you sharing with strangers? With a quick look at your social media profiles, fraudsters could easily find out your full name, date of birth, where you work, names of children or pets (which are commonly used in passwords), and now with the help of the new Snapchat update, it’s fairly straight forward to work out your home address. With so much information easily accessible in the public domain, you could potentially find yourself the victim of fraud.

5. Data protection and hacking

How often do you really read all of the terms and conditions before you use an app or make a purchase? Do you know what your data is being used for? Data gathered from location-sharing has the potential to be used for all kinds of things. Imagine you are walking down your local high street and as you walk past a shop, you receive a targeted advert based on your profile information via Snapchat that persuades you to enter and make a purchase. We see similar kinds of advertising all the time online now, but this is another tool marketers could use in the future to influence consumers. Although there’s nothing criminal there, with cyber crime on the increase and large-scale hacking now a familiar story covered in the media, the Snap Map provides another potential data source that could fall into the wrong hands.

Despite the above, could the Snap Map also provide the police with a helping hand? If a crime is being committed and a Snap is shared publicly at the time, perhaps it would be reported to police sooner, and they could be at the scene quicker if needed. It could also potentially allow the whereabouts of missing or wanted individuals to be discovered – if they happen to be big fans of Snapchat.

Featured image credit: smartphone-screen-social-media by TeroVesalainen. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.