Snapchat is Now Collecting Location Data

SnapchatThere is some bad news and some good news out of ephemeral picture messaging app Snapchat this week. The main gist of the story is that Snapchat is now collecting location data from some users (h/t to The Wire for flagging this in a story). We decided to do a little test.

The idea behind Snapchat is that pictures disappear within 10 seconds after the recipient begins viewing them, giving the sender some assurance that said pictures won’t come back to haunt him. Whether Snapchat pictures are actually deleted has been debated, but in any case the recipient can take a screen shot of the pic and do with it whatever he wants (the sender is notified if that happens).

Let’s say your teen is using Snapchat – not for sexting, just as a messaging vehicle – and some of her contacts on the app are people that she doesn’t actually know. If pictures are loaded with Geolocation EXIF data, the recipient will learn her exact location when she sends a picture. Obviously, for young users that is not safe.

snapchat-geotagsI used Snapchat this morning to take a selfie, and clicked on the pen icon to add filters. As you can see at right, I got a notification that in order to use filters, Snapchat would need to know my location. In this example, it is implied that the advertiser, The Weather Channel, would need my location to serve me weather related info. That makes sense, if that’s as far as it goes.

I sent the picture to a colleague and we uploaded it to an EXIF Data Viewer to see whether the location information had been attached to the picture and sent to the recipient. It had not. No location data was present on the picture.

As you can see below from Snapchat’s Privacy Policy, location data is clearly an opt-in feature:

When you first launch any features of our Services that collect location information, you will be asked to consent to our collection of this information…you can subsequently stop the collection of this information by changing the preferences on your mobile device. If you do so, certain features of our Services will no longer function.

snapchat-locationRequiring users to reveal location data in order to use filters is something we’d rather not see. Using Instagram as an indication, filters are a feature that is very popular with users. Young users especially are likely to trade privacy and safety for a cool new feature. That’s the bad news. As long as location data is NEVER attached to pictures this won’t be an issue. That’s the good news, but this could change at some point.


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