Editor’s Note: Christine Elgersma is Senior Editor at Common Sense Media. Previously, she helped create English Language Arts education curriculum for a K-12 app and taught high school and community college students. Follow her on Twitter @Chrissy4Kids. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Christine Elgersma: 'Snap Map,' is a new feature of the popular app Snapchat
When it comes to our kids, location tracking is not an ideal feature
It seems like every day our most beloved social media apps are scrambling to one-up each other with new features to increase functionality. Sometimes those updates are big hits, and sometimes they are head-scratchers. In the case of Snap Map, the new feature in Snapchat, it’s a bit of both for the average user and a real concern for parents.
For those who haven’t heard, Snap Map uses geolocation to let you see your friends’ “Actionmojis” – cartoon-like figures that resemble users – on a map and lets them see where you are, too. Your little Bitmoji avatar travels from here to there as you move around, and you can select specific people to see you. If you send a snap to “Our Story” (a collection of images submitted from different users that are curated by Snapchat’s team), your location is potentially visible to everyone, including strangers.
Essentially, it taps into the technology we often use and appreciate when we need directions or hail a ride. But when it comes to our kids, location tracking is suddenly less appealing. Sure, we might want to keep tabs on our own kids sometimes, but we definitely don’t want anyone and everyone knowing which Starbucks our kid visits after school.
So, what’s a parent to do? Thankfully, in the case of Snap Map, it’s easy to opt out. Within the app itself, you can use “Ghost Mode” so that you’re not visible on the map. To be even more thorough, it’s a good idea to check your device’s location sharing settings and deny access to Snapchat and whatever other apps don’t really need to know where you are.
And Snapchat has been quick to note, most recently to The Verge, that “The safety of our community is very important to us and we want to make sure that all Snapchatters, parents, and educators have accurate information about how the Snap Map works.”
The bigger question for parents is around staying on top of the constant updates, potentially privacy-invading features and hot new apps that erupt on to the scene every few months.
It’s a full-time job (I know – it’s my job), and even if you’re pretty savvy, it’s impossible to know everything. Instead of walking in those Sisyphean steps, we can talk with our kids about our concerns, our rules and the risks associated with social media.
Parents of teens know scaremongering doesn’t usually work, but honest and ongoing communication about how to use media responsibly can go a long way. We can talk about the riskiest elements of apps – location tracking/sharing, anonymity, chatting with strangers, etc. – and why they can lead to trouble. And when our kids make mistakes, we can use it as an opportunity to steer them in a better, and safer, direction.