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Police issue child safety warning over Snapchat maps update that reveals users' locations

Matthew Field
Snapchat Maps allows users to broadcast their location - Snapchat

Police forces have raised child safety concerns about a new Snapchat feature that reveals users' locations amid fears it could be used for stalking.

Parents have been warned to turn off "Snap Maps" on their children's phones after Snapchat, which is wildly popular among teenagers, introduced the location-sharing mode this week.

The feature displays a map of nearby friends, showing their latest location gathered using a smartphone's GPS sensor.  Users of the app can also search for locations such as individual schools, with the app displaying public photos and videos sent by students.

While the feature is designed to help friends meet up or attend events together it has raised fears that it could be abused. Preston Police said on its Facebook page: "Obviously this may cause concern for certain users, particularly those who have young children who use the app."

It said users could change the settings to a private mode that does not share their location with anyone.

A spokesperson for the National Society for the Protection of Children said: "It’s worrying that Snapchat is allowing under 18s to broadcast their location on the app where it can potentially be accessed by everyone in their contact lists. 

"With public accounts, this will include those who are not known to the user. This highlights why it’s vital children are automatically offered safer accounts on social media to ensure they are protected from unnecessary risks."

The UK Safer Internet Centre said: "It is important to be careful about who you share your location with, as it can allow people to build up a picture of where you live, go to school and spend your time.

"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."

Parents can turn the feature off on children's phones by setting the app to "ghost mode". 

Snapchat said the new Snap Maps is off by default and users must choose to opt in. It said the app is set to share with friends by default, while users can choose who can view their story and posts. It said the feature was not designed to broadcast to strangers.

How to turn on ghost mode

How to disable Snapmaps

 To hide your location from friends, you can easily turn on ghost mode in Snap Map. To do this, pinch the screen when you are in selfie mode to bring up Snap Map. Then, click the settings icon in the top right hand corner and set the phone to "ghost mode". Then Snapchat will stop sharing your location.