Schools and parents are calling upon the makers of the popular social messaging application Snapchat to address the potential safety risks that the app's new mapping feature could pose to young people.
Snap Inc., the company responsible for the software, has been criticised by teachers, parents and childcare professionals for exposing vulnerable people to danger through the Snapchat map tool, which allows users to track the exact geographic location of those they have added as friends.
Launched on June 21st, the new Snap Map feature allows users to browse an interactive map of photos and videos that have been shared publicly, and to present their own location to others in the form of a cartoon avatar on the map.
A BBC report has since revealed that many schools have expressed concerns about the accuracy of this tracking feature, as it could potentially result in malicious users being able to build up detailed information on a child's home address, school location and regular travel routes.
In response to these fears, the National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection division has published guidance offering more information about Snapchat and Snap Map, which encourages children to share their locations only with people they know well.
The guidance also provides detailed instruction on how users can deactivate the Snap Map mode. This process involves three steps:
Although the Snap Map feature is relatively simple to switch off, the NSPCC has criticised Snap Inc. for failing to make the functionality of the map clear enough before launching the update, as offering signposted pre-release information for parents would have eased a lot of the safeguarding concerns many currently have.
Rose Bray from the NSPCC said: "Parents could be given a bit of warning, so they can look up the information before the new feature launches, and have a conversation with their child."
In a statement to BBC News, Snap Inc. emphasised that the Snap Map feature is switched off by default, and is an opt-in feature that can be deactivated at any time. It also stated that the precise nature of the location tracking is intended to help friends find each other and meet up, reflecting the fact that the app is generally used by people with close relationships, whereas other social networks are more geared towards discovering new contacts.
The company said: "The safety of our community is very important to us and we want to make sure that all Snapchatters, parents and educators have accurate information about how the Snap Map works."