As part of Hillard Heintze’s social media team, it is imperative that team members are familiar with social media apps and tools and stay current on updates and changes to those apps. Accordingly, we wanted to post about an important update that could impact the safety and privacy of users of the Snapchat social media platform. For those who are not familiar with Snapchat, it’s a mobile-based application that sends photos, videos and messages that “disappear” after 10 seconds.

On June 21, Snapchat released an update with a new mapping feature called Snap Maps. This feature enables users to share their current location with friends within the app. Snap Maps allows users to view public snaps that were submitted at Snapchat-featured events, private gatherings, local attractions or specific locations worldwide. The app also includes a heat map that shows where public users are sending snaps. Users have the option to share their location with either all of their friends, selected friends or remain private (ghost mode).


Connected users appear on Snap Maps in a nondescript avatar human shape. Users who have their Snapchat connected to a Bitmoji account appear in a customizable, lifelike format that includes clothing, hair and facial features. As seen in the below example, my co-worker and I are at Hillard Heintze’s Chicago office in both ghost and fully public modes. Avatars can also appear in a vehicle if they are moving or with headphones if the user is listening to music and connected to the Shazam music app.


So What’s the Big Deal about an Updated App?

While this new feature appears extremely handy to keep tabs on friends and family members (pending they’re not in ghost mode), there’s a risk that users could use Snap Maps in a more nefarious manner.

For example, during my review of the app, I noticed that a concert for the rapper Ludacris was happening in a nearby neighborhood. I clicked the Ludacris icon and began watching the story, and I noticed one snap that specifically stated the show was a private event and included the name of the venue. I hadn’t heard anything about Ludacris being in Chicago, so I did a quick search to see if there was any mention of the show online. I found nothing on Ludacris’ social media pages, the venue’s website, or mentions of the show in the top Google results within the past 24 hours. I am not sure if the event had security, but they might have needed it if other Snap users tried to gain access to the nonpublic event.


What Else Could Go Wrong? Snapchat Tips

The ramifications of private events becoming public could be the tip of the iceberg for Snap Maps as more users adopt the updated feature. Many social media posts have already mentioned that the app essentially shows connected users your home address (again, pending you’re not in ghost mode) and could make stalking people easier. Our Threat and Violence Risk Management Team assesses and manages cases involving inappropriate pursuers who frequently use social media to target people from all walks of life. Often, the recipients of the unwanted attention are women who know the offender.[1]

The heat map may pose another type of risk. With intelligence at your fingertips showing where a lot of people are congregated in any given city, the threat of mass attacks may increase. Some events, such as Snapchat-featured events, are typically seen at sporting games or large music festivals that have security measures in place to search for weapons and monitor crowds. However, protests, private events and other less publicized gatherings are now easily located and may not have adequate security or response teams in place to prevent an attack.


Recommendations for Social Media Safety

As with all social media platforms, Hillard Heintze encourages our employees and clients to be cognizant of their privacy settings and visibility to strangers. If you do not personally have the app but know your child or family member has a smartphone and might use it, have a discussion about Snapchat and maintaining privacy across all social media platforms.


*To adjust your privacy settings, you must be in the Snap Map feature of Snapchat.


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