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Guy tracks down girlfriend via Snapchat Snap Map, stabs man she’s with

Nov 07, 20174 mins
PrivacySecuritySocial Networking Apps

Geolocation broadcasting like the feature in Snapchat Snap Map has its uses, but if left on all the time, it has very real risks.

I was doing some research into a story about Snapchat – I don’t use it, but 173 million people use it daily. Many of those users were ticked yesterday after Snapchat went down and they lost Snapstreaks – earned by Snapping each other every day and keeping a tally of how many days they have Snapped back and forth. The worldwide outage also spawned fake news about Snapchat shutting down this month.

My search led to another fake story – this time it involved threats made via Snapchat against Isabella High School in Alabama. On Sunday, a Snapchat-using student allegedly said something about bringing a gun to school in response to an altercation that occurred at school last Thursday. That Snapped threat resulted in only 28 of 720 students showing up for class on Monday; the school decided that those who were absent will be excused.

In the end, Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon sent a heavy presence of cops to the school on Monday but determined there was no real evidence to prove the threat was real.

He added, “Each person we talked to said they heard it from someone but could not pinpoint where the threats came from. At this point there has not been any credible evidence to substantiate the allegations.”

Very real dangers of Snap Map geolocation broadcasting

But something that was real, and was the cause of my research, involved a jealous guy, his girlfriend, a knife, another guy and Snap Map – a “feature” that rolled out in June to track and map users’ locations in real time. If a user pinches the screen to zoom outward, then they will see their location on a map as well as the real-time location of their Snapchat friends. The location is updated every time the user opens the Snapchat app.

After Snap Map was launched, that creepy location tracking ability quickly became a tool for Snapchatters to spot cheaters. And that is how a 25-year-old man in France, armed with a knife, tracked the location of his girlfriend.

On Halloween night, the man didn’t know the location of his girlfriend and she wasn’t answering her phone. According to France Bleu, he used Snap Map to locate her on the map and rushed to that location. He was armed with a knife when he found her sitting in a car with another guy. He then argued with that guy before stabbing him in the thigh. The boyfriend, who admitted to being very jealous, was arrested. He is suspected of being be violent with his girlfriend, yet claimed “it is she who seeks it.”

Granted, the jealous, seemingly unhinged boyfriend abused the Snapchat tool. However, it escapes my reasoning to understand why people continue to allow apps to broadcast their geolocation and allow other users to search for their location.

There is a Ghost Mode, meaning it hides your location from other Snapchatters, and even a timer if there is some reason to allow other Snapchatters to see your location for a specific time period. The timer function might be good in certain cases, as Snap Map has been used for positive things during tragedies, such as being used as a means of providing real-time information in the midst of natural disasters, mass shootings or terror attacks.

The misuse of technology

A discussion on Twitter veered into how tech — even geotagging — “is neutral.” Yet TedOnPrivacy, a privacy engineer at Google, noted that the notion of tech being neutral needs to be killed. That way of thinking has “led an entire industry to many disasters.”

After giving several examples of how tech has been misused, he cautioned engineers against adding cool technical crap without thinking about the social consequences.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.