Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel poses for a photo in Los Angeles in 2013. Several child protection groups are warning that Snapchat’s new location-sharing feature could allow predators to more easily track young people. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Child protection groups warn of new Snapchat risk

TORONTO — Several child protection groups are warning that Snapchat’s new location-sharing feature could allow predators to more easily track young people.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection and MediaSmarts are among the watchdog groups raising concerns about “Snap Maps” — an opt-in feature that shares a user’s location on a map.

Experts say child predators who befriend young users could use the feature to figure out where they live, go to school, the route they walk every day, and eventually build up a picture of their routine.

The feature was included in a recent update to the social media app, which is especially popular with teens. It lets users send photos, videos, and messages that disappear after a set period of time.

Users can select who can see where they are — whether that be all friends, a select group, or no one, also known as “Ghost Mode.”

Earlier this week, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection issued an alert through its Cybertip.ca program about Snap Maps, saying users may not realize it updates their location each time they open the app, even when they’re not sharing stories.

The group also urges parents to talk to their kids about keeping their location private and ensuring their “friends” on Snapchat — and all social media — are people they have met in person.

Thierry Plante of the Ottawa-based digital and media literacy group MediaSmarts points to the “troubling consequences” of allowing others to know your location.

“It becomes a very useful tracking tool for somebody who has other intentions,” says Plante.

“Parents do need to be very present in the digital lives of their children and have the conversation about how to use that feature, whether or not that feature is something they should be using or not, and then together … if you have decided to use it, how to set the feature in a way to minimize that risk.”

Childnet International also released a statement about the feature last week.

“Given how specific this new feature is on Snapchat — giving your location to a precise pinpoint on a map — we would encourage users not to share their location, especially with people they don’t know in person,” the group said in a statement.

A Snapchat spokesperson said in a statement that “the safety of our community is very important to us” and stressed that using Snap Map “is completely optional.”

“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, and the majority of interactions on Snapchat take place between close friends,” reads the statement.

Snapchat has an online parents guide offering tips on keeping teens safe while using the app, as well as an online ”safety center” where anyone can report a safety concern.

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