Police warn of concerns regarding Snapchat’s Snap Map feature

An example of Snapchat’s Snap Map feature, which shows user location with a Bitmoji character.

Kingston Police and The Canadian Centre for Child Protection want to make parents aware of a concerning new location-sharing feature on the popular social media app Snapchat.

Snapchat is an app that allows users send photos, videos, and messages that disappear after a set time. The social media platform is very popular with teens, and has more users than Twitter.

Police want parents to know that, if location services have been turned on, ‘Snap Maps’ reveals your current location by showing your Bitmoji character on a map or a shadow-figure if a Bitmoji character has not been created (see above image). This opt-in feature allows friends to look at shared stories (created by a combination of Snaps, both images and videos) taken by multiple users at the same event or location, or see where other friends are located. Users can select who sees where they are – all friends, a select group, or none (ghost mode). You can zoom out far enough to see a whole world map, and close enough to see street names, parks, and other landmarks.

“There is a real safety concern in others being able to track your daily movements, including where you go to school, the route you walk every day, and where you live,” Kingston Police said in a press release on Thursday, Jul 11, 2019. “Users may not realize this feature is on all the time and updates your location each time you open the app, not just when sharing to ‘My Stories.’”

Police are urging parents to talk to their teens about:

  • Setting the app to ‘Ghost Mode,’ which keeps their location private (the Bitmoji does not appear on the map). Alternatively the app can be set to show only specific ‘friends’ (such as parents, family or close friends) their location.
  • Ensuring their ‘friends’ on Snapchat (and all social media) are people they have met in person.

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