SNP MSP calls on Snapchat to remove ‘extremely dangerous’ maps feature for schools

Written by Jenni Davidson on 25 January 2018 in News

Aberdeen MSP Kevin Stewart wants to remove a feature that allows user to search based on schools

Children with smartphones - Image credit: PA Images

SNP MSP Kevin Stewart has called on photo messaging app ‘Snapchat’ to introduce safeguards to protect school children from an “extremely dangerous” maps feature that allows users to search posts using schools as locations.

The Aberdeen Central MSP launched the campaign following an investigation by the Evening Express that found children at several schools had unwittingly posted their details publicly so they were viewable by strangers.

In a letter to Snapchat, Stewart raised concerns that users can search for public posts in a particular area and it is possible to search for a primary school and see all the public posts from that school via the ‘Our Story’ feature.

He urged the company to modify its search feature to remove schools and to work with children’s charities to make parents aware of potentially dangerous features. 

Stewart added that although Snapchat is not supposed to be available to under-13s, this was “effectively impossible to enforce”.

Snapchat has previously come under general criticism for the map feature, which allows users to find each other by pinpointing to their location using phone GPS location settings.

Snapchat responded to the letter asserting that the map feature was “designed with privacy and safety in mind”.

In a written response to Stewart, Snap Inc. Global Head of Public Policy Jennifer Park Stout said that the ‘Snap Map’ location-sharing feature is “off by default” and is “completely optional”.

She added: “Snapchatters can choose exactly who they want to share their location with, if at all, and can change that setting at any time.

“It’s also not possible to share your location with someone who isn’t already your friend on Snapchat.”

Stout claimed that areas where there are Snaps available to view are shown by “heat” overlaid on the map, but the precision of the heat is deliberately degraded by up to four kilometres depending on the volume in an area and the age of the user, with the location of Snaps posted by children “typically placed with less accuracy than adults”. 

The company also “seeks to prevent Snaps from being displayed on the map at schools where students are primarily under the age of 13,” she said.

However, Stewart is not satisfied with the response and has launched a campaign on Change.org calling for the company to remove schools as searchable locations.

Stewart said: “This Snapchat feature is extremely dangerous and puts the safety of school children at risk.

“Social media companies have a responsibility to put in place appropriate safeguards – particularly when their apps allow children and adults to share photos, exchange messages, and make video calls.

“Snapchat must now take swift action to protect children from this location-revealing feature.”

He added: “There is of course an element of parental responsibility, and I hope this raises awareness of the risks, so that parents and guardians can ensure children under 13 don’t have the app, and those over 13 have strict privacy settings on.” 

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