By Manleen Bawa
In September 2011, Snapchat entered our lives as the ‘no-strings-attached’ photo sharing application. Used mostly by teenagers and young adults, it captured interest by freeing its users from the vestiges of any conversation had or media shared. With the user in complete control over what is sent to whom and for how long it can be viewed, Snapchat revolutionised the way content was shared online.
However, despite presenting itself as a relevant and safe method of multimedia communication, Snapchat invaded the privacy of its users by endangering the information exchanged. Multiple photo leaks and data theft reports put user details at risk and raised serious security concerns.
The walls of privacy are slowly breaking down, one app update after another. The fine line between privacy and security is gradually fading as technology disguises itself like a necessity. If we were to carefully read through all the terms and conditions we readily agree to while installing an app, we would shudder.
Our position as consumers in this era of technological advancements is precarious. On one hand, we are guilty of indulging in an app specifically designed to generate and cater to a need. On the other, we lament the loss of our privacy at the cost of the pleasure we have been contrived to avail. Constantly vacillating between these two mutually irreconcilable alternatives, what choice do we really have? It may appear as if we are willingly obliging to the demands of a smartphone app, but the truth is that we are being made to.
Does the data actually go away?
Snapchat’s USP (Unique selling proposition) is that no data that is shared is stored. Everything gets erased (automatically) within the given time. However, the recent leaks and security breaches only prove otherwise. In 2016, a hacker accessed around 100,000 shared images and videos, compromising 5 million user accounts.
At first, Snapchat employed the user’s location to provide location-specific filters. However, with the new Snap Map feature, it takes social media to a whole different level. With this update, Snapchat is able to pinpoint the location of the people on one’s contact list down to the exact details such as street names. This can be used to find out where your friends are and what they are up to.
A cause for worry
The company believes that this feature adds a modern twist to interconnectedness and social interactions. A blog post by Snapchat on this update read,“We’ve built a whole new way to explore the world! See what’s happening, find your friends, and get inspired to go on an adventure!”.
Police officials, schools and many users, however, are expressing grave concerns over this breach of privacy. Every time one opens the app, one leaves behind a trace on a map in real time. This is especially dangerous for teenagers, who might not fully comprehend the implications of this feature. People with stalker tendencies or malicious intent can draw out a routine of children and other young, vulnerable users by tracking their every move. This data can then be used to cause them harm. Cyberbullying can transform into physical world bullying with a simple tap on a phone screen.
There is, of course, a choice to opt-out of this feature by switching to the ‘ghost mode’, which enables one to disallow location sharing. The default setting after installing the Snap Map update is one where user location will not be shared. However, it is still quite frightening that an app has complete access to one’s exact location and life.
Are we all stalkers in some sense?
Fundamentally, the Snap Map update is deeply voyeuristic in nature. While it is an attempt by the app to regain its popularity, it also speaks about the kind of world we are living in, that necessitates such a feature in the first place. Social media has revolutionised the way people communicate with each other. However, there has been a shift in interests, from acquiring passing knowledge of someone else’s life to penetrating into someone’s personal space for mere entertainment purposes. There has to be a reason why Snapchat thought that Snap Map would be a hit with its users. It is because we want to know what others around us are doing all the time. Snapchat has allowed us to do exactly that in real time and place.
In a world where cyber surveillance is endangering the privacy of an individual and state-sponsored data collection is rampant, innocent-looking features such as this make our daily lives murkier. With multiple applications gathering user information to produce individual-specific content, imagining a cyber spy-free life is becoming harder and nearly impossible.
Featured Image Credits: Flickr
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