On June 21st, Snapchat added a new big feature called Snap Map that lets you share your current location with your friends. Users can zoom out from the default Snapchat camera screen to bring out a map that shows where you and your friends are currently at, in addition to showing places where many users are uploading snaps to Our Story. Meant to make it easier to meet up with friends in real life rather than simply talking or getting updates online, Snapchat updates the location every time when you open the app.

Snap shared its excitement for this new feature on its blog, saying “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!,”.

As excited as it sounds, some features of the new addition are raising concerns about child safety and bullying. The primary concern is about its major threat to privacy. Given that the location shown on Snap Map is very precise, pinpointing at exactly which spot in which street the person is in, children’s real-time location would be exposed to everyone they are Snapchat friends with, including the ones whom they might not know in real life. While the audience of that information can be changed in the privacy settings, most kids tend to not look at privacy options, leaving them vulnerable to their predators.

The Childnet International, an organization that aims to protect children’s safety online, recommended in its blog to not share their real-time location, especially with people that we don’t know in real-life; “It is important to be careful about who you share your location with, as it can allow people to build up a picture of where you live, go to school and spend your time”. The CEO of Childnet International, Will Gardner, also warned us about additional risks that the new features imposes by revealing people’s locations to bullies and possibly to child predators, which can lead to grooming, trolling, or cyberbullying.

But of course, Snapchat taken some measures to address these possible concerns. First, the location-sharing function is turned off in the default mode. Unlike many other location-based apps, Snapchat gives its users the freedom to set whether and exactly whom they want to show their location to. It also asks users for their birthday when they sign up and doesn’t allow people under 13 to create a Snapchat account; but skeptics also object that kids can simply lie about their age to make an account. For more protection, Snapchat published a parent guide that explains the app and details how parents should talk to their children about using it. It also asks its users to and walks parents through how to talk to their kids about it. Given these strong built-in controls, we shouldn’t be too concerned with the possible dangers of the new feature in particular.

Rather, the nature of potential concerns with Snapchat is more socially focused than privacy-focused, according to Stacey Gray, policy counsel with the Future of Privacy Forum, an organization for consumer data privacy. It could be easily used to show someone all his or her friends are hanging out without him or her; even more, the bullies could use it to take more extreme measures by having someone’s location available and sharing that location information online with others.

Acknowledging these risks, Snapchat clearly notes in its parent guide that bullying violates its community guidelines. The guide instructs the parents to educate their children about why bullying is wrong, and “remind them to talk to you[the parents] or any other trusted adult if they are ever on the receiving end of bullying or unwanted content.”

In a digital world like this, parents can’t afford to stay ignorant about technology. They need to know about their children’s online presence activities, on whichever platform they’re using. With so many tools available online for bullies or predators to possibly attack their children, more information on how today’s teenagers use the technology can never hurt.

For more information on how to protect your children, check out the Parent’s Survival Guide to Online Safety.

Author's Bio: 

KidGuard's sole mission is to protect your children online. Our team spends every waking hour thinking about how to bring awareness and inspire solutions on issues of cyber bullying, online predators, teen suicide, and childhood depression in the age of technology. KidGuard employs a team of researchers and writers to educate parents on solutions to digital parenting problems and also runs a popular child cell phone monitoring software to allow parents to stay involved in their child's life online.