This time last week, Snapchat launched a new feature, Snap Map, which allows users to share their location, as well as track other users’ location and behaviour in real time. This is how Snapchat announced this new feature:
This addition is really confusing me because Snapchat’s unique selling proposition (USP), so far, has been the emphasis on privacy – for instance, messages that disappear and, thus, can not be used for targeting advertising; and transparency about who has seen your messages and whether they screen shot anything.
Time magazine, in an article published around the time of Snapchat’s IPO, and available here, felt that this was exactly the reason why the app was so popular, particularly among teens:
The technology successes of the Internet age have been about making information free and easy. But Snapchat is a tech reactionary, offering an escape from the gameified popularity contest measured in friends, followers, likes and comments. Snapchat is built by and for a generation that wants to use technology to improve its antisocial social life.
With this move, Snapchat is not only moving away from its focus on privacy, but also its focus on user control. This is because, unlike other famous Snapchat features like the filters, the location is on by default, unless users choose to turn it off (and go into ‘ghost-mode’). Even the police is alerting Snapchat users to this:
I conducted a very small (and entirely non-scientific) straw poll among young Snapchat users*, and it seems that I am not alone in my scepticism. None of the respondents thought that this was a good idea, and over 60% had no intention of using this feature:
When asked why they had such views, the respondents said things like:
“It is very stalkish”;
“It’s an invasion of privacy”, or
“I am not going to use it as I don’t want to public(ise) my life”.
What could explain Snapchat’s recent move?
In the Time article mentioned above, the magazine offered an explanation for Snapchat’s approach focused on privacy and user control:
Products reflect the founders behind them. Mark [Zuckerberg] was this guy who is not very social in college–the guy outside looking in. ‘I’m missing out and I need to figure out what’s going on and I need to see everything.’ (…) Snapchat reflects Evan’s ethos. It’s all about privacy.
It is unlikely that the founder’s ethos changed dramatically. Is this a result of pressure, now that the company is public and needs to deliver results to its shareholders? Is it because their product developers became fascinated with what the technology can do (rather than what it should do)? Maybe there is a good business rationale for it, but I don’t get it. What am I missing here?
* I.e., mostly, my teen daughter’s friends