New Snapchat feature exposes vulnerability

By Renee Perez, Columnist
On July 6, 2017

Selecting ‘Ghost Mode’ on the new Snap Map won’t really protect your privacy, but you should do it anyway. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

As part of a larger trend of social media becoming increasingly invasive, Snapchat’s most recent update introduced a controversial new feature called Snap Map. 

The real-time map allows users to broadcast their location to their Snapchat friends every time they open the app. Snap Map uses Bitmojis to indicate users’ current coordinates and their last known location.  

Schools, law enforcement and news outlets are warning parents about the dangers Snap Map could pose to children, who comprise 23 percent of Snapchat’s 158 million users, according to BusinessInsider.

However, the live map is not just hazardous to the safety of kids and teens, but adults too. It gives predators, bullies, abusers and stalkers an effortless way to track potential victims. 

Although many are blindsided by the feature’s intrusiveness, Snap Map is merely a reflection of the disconcerting reality of modern-day internet usage: Terms and conditions have become soul-selling deals in which we agree to be surveilled.

We are surveilled not only by our friends, but by any company or agency willing to pay for our information in exchange for a counterfeit approximation of social interaction.    

For instance, internet service providers like Bright House Networks can legally track and sell browsing habits without consumers’ consent.

Just this week, a U.S. district judge dismissed a nationwide lawsuit against Facebook for violating federal privacy laws. The grounds for the lawsuit were that Facebook is “tracking users” internet activity even after they logged out of the … website” and selling this information to marketers to generate targeted advertisements. 

Even more unsettling is that the monitoring is not limited to our online behavior. 

Facebook doesn’t just know what late-night questions you Google and what is in your Amazon cart. Thanks to its Offline Conversion API, it also knows what stores you visit, when you visit them, how much money you spent there, and what items you purchased. This information is all stored and sold by Facebook, according to Econsultancy.

There are certainly ways of increasing online privacy — for instance, selecting “Ghost Mode” on Snap Map prevents location sharing — but these measures are quickly losing effectiveness. 

In this age of technology, we must decide whether we hope to actively live our lives or simply discharge responses to a constant barrage of targeted ads, stopping only when the lighting is just right for an Instagram photo. Perhaps it is time we log off of social media, lest we become no more autonomous than the smartphones we use to access it.  

 

Renee Perez is a junior majoring in political science and economics.

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