It’s a curious thing being able to see the location of many of your friends, colleagues, lovers and even family members on a virtual map. But, that’s precisely what Snapchat’s new feature Snap Maps is offering up. And, honestly, this new feature — released just a day ago — has already turned me into a creepy lurker.
Your Snap Map is essentially a virtual map populated by your friends who are represented in Bitmoji. The map, accessible by pinching your fingers in the app’s camera, updates users’ locations whenever the app is in use. While the feature doesn’t track your location while you’re off the app, if you’re a heavy Snapchat user, the map can give a reliable idea to friends as to your whereabouts.
Snap Map is off by default and users have to opt in if they want to make themselves visible on the map. And, you can also choose who sees that location — be all your friends, a select group of friends, or just you.
From the moment I started using the feature I felt privy to the kind of information I knew I shouldn’t have access to. Like, where one of my esteemed colleagues was sleeping? In fact, the Snap Map’s level of accuracy gave me the actual cross street of her address. When I asked her if that was her address, she confirmed that she lives on that very street. This level of accuracy when it comes to location data is no accident. The map intends to make it easy for friends in crowded parks and festivals.
Once I’d established the reliability of the map, that’s when I really began to explore. I saw what my teenage cousin was getting up to throughout the day. I could see she was at home; her Bitmoji hovering on her lane in a rural village in Devon, UK. Naturally, as a protective older cousin, I don’t exactly relish the idea of anyone — let alone myself — being able to track a young person’s location throughout a day.
My worries didn’t end there, though. What if one evening, when perusing the map, I learn that all my friends are hanging out without me? Instagram and Snapchat Stories already give me heaps of FOMO. I’m not sure I can handle anymore. I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, lots of people have taken to social media to say the map is yet another FOMO-inducing feature:
Just saw snapchat’s new update with Snap Map…. great, another way for me to have fomo
— Kara Verma (@KaraVerma) June 23, 2017
Don’t like this Snap Map update for Snapchat. As if it didn’t induce enough FOMO already with Stories
— Kimberley John ن ⓥ (@kimberleyjohn_) June 22, 2017
What if the map informs me that an ex-boyfriend starts occasionally sleeping in a location different to his own address? Social media is already ripe with opportunities for lurking on exes, crushes and even current partners. And, sometimes that lurking leads to unpleasant discoveries.
The app’s Ghost Mode also makes it possible to lurk in a clandestine fashion. You can be entirely invisible on the map while still seeing where your pals are. When you activate Ghost Mode your previously-broadcast location clears in seconds, much like donning an invisibility cloak. Creepy much?
The actual idea behind the new feature is to encourage Snapchatters to use the app to facilitate their social life. And, the revelation of intimate location data is symptomatic of that.
The feature is, of course, great when you’re actively using it to socialise with people, but heavy users will need to take the data with a pinch of salt lest they fall into dangerous and unhealthy habits. Don’t get sucked in by the map’s revelatory nature, and don’t read too much into people’s locations. After all, it only updates when people are actually using the app. So, while you’re panicking about your boyfriend’s sleeping location, he could very well be tucked up in his own bed with a hot water bottle.
Proceed with caution, friends.