A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Hugo Reed
I would like to start out by saying that I am by no means a ‘hater’. In today’s article, I will be stepping away from the topics nestled in the traditional pockets of security and I will be tackling (in some part) the behemoth that is social media. If you are able to make it to the end of this article, and all you take away from it is that I am not a fan of social media, you would have probably missed my entire point. I will admit that I am not the biggest proponent of social media, but I can understand its allure. For the readers who enjoy topics that revolve around traditional security, do not fret, the article will still focus on some aspects of traditional security and the ways in which these security measures are impacted by some social media platforms.
In addition to the basic foundation of being able to share ‘snaps’ of your life with your friends, you also get to customize photos and videos with trendy features that the Snapchat development team is constantly updating. It is one of these many updates that introduced Snap Map to the world. Many of the other features that have been rolled out since Snapchat’s inception are considered to be quite harmless, but the new Snap Map has drawn the ire of many. The basis of the map update seems to be very simple: give users a more immersive way to share their experiences. Immersiveness in this context simply means an inclusion of more features like locations, nearby landmarks, etc.
The features of Snap Map are primarily responsible for the kind of attention that the application is drawing. Although there are some people who think that the Snap Map is a dangerous and unnecessary feature, there are those who wholeheartedly support it. The difference between these two parties is that one faction believes the map poses a threat to its users and the other faction believes it is harmless. It should be noted that many of the people who staunchly believe the Snap Map is dangerous are parents and teachers who are concerned about the ways in which the Snapchat update might affect their children and students.
Essentially, the map allows Snapchat users to see where other fellow users are on a map. It seems to me that the main purpose of the Snap Map is to promote people to share more aspects of their lives and allow others to see the world from someone else’s perspective. This does sound somewhat endearing and fun, but the potential security risks are hard to overlook. The application shares your location with your friends if you permit it, and it also takes stock of your movements within a given location to try and show your friends exactly what you may be doing.
For instance, if I had the Snap Map enabled on my phone, and I was taking a hike, the map would update to show my location as it changed. It does this by assessing the speed at which I was moving, and cross checking this with other landmarks on the map. This means that if the hiking trail I was on is present on the map, then everyone I follow will know just where I am and exactly what I’m doing.
This might not be a huge privacy issue to some, but you need to be cognisant of the fact that security involves layers. As such, the measures that are used to bypass security will involve layers as well. People might think that there is nothing to fear because only your friends and acquaintances will be privy to your location, but you need to view these people as access points as well. In this cyber age, your vulnerabilities extend much further out than you might think.
As I pointed out earlier, there are some people who seem to think that the Snap Map is a sign that the world of social media has overstepped its boundaries, and this is a signal of the impending end. I do not think anything quite so extreme, but I do believe that there are some vulnerabilities that the application has, and not addressing these can potentially place many people in danger. The main highlight people have been harping on is that the new update is a danger to people’s privacy, and they seem to be viewing it as a more of a social inconvenience than an actual security threat. Take a second to think about the security dangers that stem from privacy vulnerabilities, and you will begin to see why the new snap should be viewed as much more than just a simple privacy issue.
The main feature of the Snap Map is the location tracking that it provides. Anyone who is heavy into social media will tell you that the more people share, the better the social experience becomes. If you do not agree with the sentiment, I will assume that you are among the minority who have some reservations about social media altogether. The truth is, social media is unchartered territory for many, and there are countless people who are figuring out how to safely navigate this terrain.
The Snap Map makes that terrain all the more challenging. The geo-tracking feature allows all your friends and acquaintances on Snapchat to view your location, as well as whatever activity you are currently undertaking. There is a common misconception that the Snap Map will notify people of your whereabouts at any given time, but it does not work like that, according to developers at Snapchat and users as well. Essentially, if you have enabled the Snap Map on your smartphone, your location is automatically updated any time you open the Snapchat application. For those who choose to opt out of the feature, you can decide to enable Ghost mode, which allows you to see your friends locations but still maintain a semblance of privacy.
The main danger that arises here is the combination of automatic updates and human nature. I know that sounds somewhat confusing, but allow me to explain in greater detail. In this context, when I say human nature, I am mainly talking about the tendency that all people have to forget things. Simply put, someone may enable the features of the Snap Map so that they can update their location and allow their friends to see what they are doing. However, there is a chance that they may forget to turn it off, even when they are ready to draw back into their privacy. This outcome is very likely for many of the Snapchat users, and many of them could very possibly give their location away to people that they are trying to avoid for safety reasons.
The Snap Map update is much more than just a danger to people’s privacy. Yes, it can be an extreme inconvenience to have someone know where you are at any given time, especially if you are trying to keep to yourself and stay off the radar. However, minor inconveniences pale in comparison to real dangers, and one of the very real dangers that the Snap Map poses is the danger of personal security threats.
If you take the time to look at the Snap Map, you will realize that it’s accuracy parallels that of Google Maps, which means it is pretty accurate. This feature means that anyone who is your friend on Snapchat will be able to find your approximate location in a matter of seconds. In an idealistic world, there would be nothing to fear from your friends and acquaintances, but the application can be exploited and used to stalk people and place them in harm’s way. As I mentioned earlier, technology and applications like Snapchat extend your vulnerabilities. Think of the people you know as access points into your life. Essentially, if someone was bent on stalking you and finding out your location, they will now have countless numbers of access points to choose from.
Many Snapchat users have friends on the application that they do not know or that they have never met. It is also very common for celebrities and other social figures to give out their Snapchat usernames for their fans and followers to have more insight into their lives. This makes it so much easier for people to head you off on your way to a venue or to pop on if you are taking a stroll late at night.
Many of the applications that are in use today allow you to integrate with other mobile apps to extend their reach. This action is very similar to what is done with smart locks and other home automation devices in a smart home. The integration of several different products and services is meant to allow more seamless actions to be carried out by users, but it also leaves them open to many more dangers.
Snap Inc. has warned that some of the third party applications that are used in conjunction with Snapchat might affect the way the application works, or it might lead to the user’s data being compromised. However, despite stating this Snapchat still has a similar integration policy of its own. Whenever the application is downloaded and installed on a user’s smart phone, they are required to give the application permissions. Among these Snapchat permissions is the ability to access a user’s contact list. This then allows people to add you on Snapchat if they have your phone number.
In the strictest sense, this might not seem like integration to some but I consider it so. Initially, this integration seemed to be rather harmless, until the inclusion of the Snap Map feature. The inclusion of the map means that more parts of your life are going to be shared to the people who have access to you on Snapchat. Depending on your privacy settings, any Snapchat user that has your phone number can potentially view your information and see what you are doing.
Child safety is probably the most important concern that the Snap Map and all its users have to contend with it. As I pointed out earlier, there seems to be a fairly even divide between people who support the update and those who are firmly against it. Most of the people who are firmly against it are parents who are concerned for the safety of their children and the ways in which updates like the Snap Map will affect them and their daily activities.
It should be stated that Snapchat is only meant to be used by individuals who are 13 and over, but this does not mean that there are not users who are much younger. The truth is there are no measures in place to ensure that users are who they say they are, or the age that they claim to be. An 11 year old can sign up simply by changing their birth year.
The absence of proper verification protocols coupled with the features that the application continues to unveil is cause for alarm to any parent. Children are very tech savvy these days, and some of them are much more so than their parents, which gives them an edge to get away with things undetected. The features of the Snap Map make children vulnerable to the dangers of stalkers and predators, especially when they are not properly educated on how to use the application effectively without putting themselves at risk. Many children have a penchant for unwittingly compromising security and the Snap Map is a tool that greatly increases the risks that they face.
Anything that limits the amount of privacy you are entitled to is somewhat dangerous no matter which way you look at it and the same can be said for the Snap Map. However, for parents and children alike, there are a few safety tips that you can take advantage of when you are using Snapchat and similar applications that will help bolster your personal security measures. Let’s take a look at some of these:
Snapchat is cool to some and it can be extremely fun, but this doesn’t mean that everyone should turn a blind eye to some of its potential dangers. Infringement upon people’s privacy is a serious concern, but it is not the only issue that Snapchat and other social media platforms will have to contend with in the growing age of social sharing. It is important for these companies to make sure that they consider safety with every new update they roll out, and it is also your responsibility as a user to ensure that you are not using these applications in any way that could put you in danger.