Snapchat’s new ‘Live Location’ feature: dangerous or genius?

by Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

Feb. 24, 2022

According to PBS, at Virginia Tech, four sexual assaults were reported in one November week, University of North Carolina linked one individual to three sexual assaults over three months, and school police have been investigating more than two dozen cases at Indiana University.

Many college students returned to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, with attendance rising to pre-pandemic levels. For some sophomores, it was their first time on campus, making them freshmen in a social and cultural sense.

But even before students returned to campus, advocacy groups, such as End Rape on Campus (EROC) and It’s On Us, were expressing concerns about the “red zone” period from August to November, where approximately 50% of sexual assaults occur at a university in a given year. Even though there aren’t official statistics, universities have been seeing a surge in cases.

New students are typically at higher risk of assault, so with the pandemic delaying campus life for sophomores, and interrupting the routine of juniors and seniors, EROC called this unprecedented time the “double red zone.”

The situation led It’s On Us to partner with the popular social media app Snapchat to create and promote a new feature called “Live Location.” While there are some concerns of privacy, as with all location sharing apps, the feature can save someone from attack, or even save their life.

Live Location, similar to the iPhone’s “Find My” network or the Life 360 app, works in tandem with “Snap Map” to provide a precise location with “trusted friends and family” for short and controlled periods of time. Snap Map previously only showed approximate location, and only updated when the Snapchat user opened the app, not in the background.

Most of the concerns following the launch of Live Location were of privacy, but Snapchat implemented safeguards to prevent stalking or harassment of their users. Live Location is not enabled 24/7, nor has an option to enable it for all of your Snapchat friends. The purpose is to share a live location with a trusted friend or family member for anywhere from 15 minutes to eight hours, just so you can get to wherever you’re going safely, or feel safe while at a certain location.

The feature could be hugely beneficial, especially given the widespread use among college audiences. But there are also risks that Snapchat couldn’t account for. Domineering partners could force their significant other to share their location, and disobedience could become problematic. The stalking safeguard isn’t 100% foolproof.

But these risks can be outweighed by the potential benefits. Snapchat is readily accessible for students, being that they already have the app. It also allows for cross-sharing between Android and iPhone users.

According to a survey conducted by the company, 78% of its U.S. users wouldn’t hesitate to share their locations on Snap Map, and most do it as a safe way to connect with others. Over 250 million users currently utilize Snap Map, and Live Location only enhances that feature.

Within the five years of Snap Map’s availability, many lives have been saved in missing person cases, natural disasters and suicide attempts, according to news sources across the country.

One example, of the power of Snap Map, covered by CNN, is a case of a missing 14-year-old girl in California back in 2020. She used the app to tell her friends she’d been abducted, but didn’t know where she was. The girl’s friends found her location using Snap Map, called 911 and shortly after, officers found the girl in a motel room.

During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Snap Map became a major resource for people trying to keep tabs on the storm in Houston. It also allowed worried family members to check in on their relatives’ homes and track their moment as the storm moved in.

Live Location is only an enhanced version of the Snap Map feature, but time will tell if it will be used in a positive way. Conceptually, it provides a means for people to ensure a safe walk home for friends.