Snapchat is a social media platform that has spread like wildfire among the children in Ireland with 84% of 15 to 18-year olds owning an account and 85% of them use it daily . Snapchat allows you to use pictures or “Snaps” to talk with friends, sometimes pictures contain a message and sometimes it doesn’t. Users can also share a snap or video to another user allowing them to see what they want. Users can also build streaks which are consecutive days in which two users have sent snaps to each other. The streak is displayed beside the user’s name and is viewed as a symbol of friendship as it takes requires each user to send each other a snap each day to each other.

Features of snapchat

A “Snap” is a picture a person can take and put a message on top of it. The message and Snap are put together and sent privately to whomever the user chooses. The message is then deleted after a selected amount of time by the user. It can be set between 1 and 10 seconds or no timer can be set at all however the snap will be deleted once the user taps off the image. However, it is possible to save snaps and send them to other people. Any snap you take can also be saved and become part of what Snapchat calls “Memories” which is a gallery of your saved media. It is also important to note that users can screenshot Snaps and save them to their device so the deletion period is not always final. There is also a chat function which allows users to engage in text-based chat, video chat or a voice chat. It’s important to note that the text-based chat is default set to delete messages once they have been read unless a user highlights the text by tapping on it and saves it to memory.

Another key feature of Snapchat is My Story. My Story is a chronological gallery of snaps you’ve uploaded to it in the past 24 hours. When you add snaps to My Story, it can be seen by everyone on your friends list. The chronological aspect to stories makes them easy to understand unlike a news feed where new content is displayed first. On Snapchat your story goes from oldest to newest so if you put a birthday party on your story, you could see the party unravel from start to finish. People are also able to save each Snap from a story, so the 24-hour deletion timer is not necessarily final. These stories can also be saved into your “Memories” and viewed later. Snapchat also has a feature called discover. Discover delivers content from publishers, shows and content creators.
The last three features of snapchat work in conjunction together. The Snap Map, Bitmoji and Our Story. The Snap Map is a map of the world which shows the live location of anyone who is your friend on Snapchat and has allowed Snapchat to track their position. It also shows what you are most likely doing based on your position (If you are in a shopping centre then you it shows you shopping and if you’re listening to music then your avatar is too). Bitmoji is a third-party app that allows you to design your own 2d character to represent yourself. This avatar then shows up as you on your account. A user can also take a picture of themselves and have this as their profile picture.

Our story works together with the SnapMap. Unlike My Story, Our Story allows a user to upload any Snaps they want, to a gallery that can be viewed by anyone who has the app installed.
Our story works as a collaborative Gallery, meaning anyone who is nearby can add to it. Whenever someone uploads a Snap to Our Story a heat-map is generated on the Snap Map to show how many snaps people are posting in that area.

Figure 1

snapchat's security options


Snapchat allows the user to:

Manage who can contact you

Manage who can view your story

Manage who can see your location

Manage who can add you as a friend

Manage if you can be seen on Quick Add

Manage conversations (Delete messages)

Manage Friends (Unfriend, Block, Report)

How to apply these options

Snapchat can be a very scary place for children to be. Despite this if the App’s safety features are used properly the risks that come with the App can be reduced. This section will detail the steps in which a parent or user can secure their account to prevent unwanted contact from individuals in Snapchat and protect themselves in a potentially predatory environment.

 To start adjusting settings, swipe to the left screen where your friends are listed on Snapchat. Click on the icon at the top left as shown in figure 2. A new screen will appear. Click on the cog at the top right of the screen as shown.

Figure 2

Now the settings page should be open displaying your basic account information as shown on the left below in figure 3. Scroll down until you get to the “Who Can…” section as shown on the right below in figure 3. Here you can manage ‘Who Can’ contact you, view your story, see your location and the option to disable being visible to add as a friend from mutuals (friends of friends). To begin optimizing the account to create the safest environment, tap on “Contact Me”.

Figure 3

The next screen will allow you to choose who can contact you directly with any communication, be it snaps, messages or calls. This setting should be set to My Friends only. This disables anyone whom you don’t have on your friends list and only who you have accepted as a friend to contact you.

Figure 4

The next settings we can optimize is the View my Story settings. Tap on “View My Story” as shown in figure 5. From here we can set who can view your story. It should be either set to “My Friends” or Custom. Custom allows you to specify exactly who on your friends list you don’t want to see your story which can be seen in figure 6.

Figure 5
Figure 6

Possibly the most important settings we can optimize is who can see your location. Select “See My Location” as shown in figure 7. Here you can manage who can view your location from everyone on your friends list or specific friends as show in figure 8. We recommend selecting ghost mode as shown on the right in figure 7 as this always hides your location from anyone.

Figure 7
Figure 8

The final setting required to be changed is “See Me in Quick Add”. Quick add allows users to add users to their friend list off another friend’s friend list. To stop your account from being shown on these lists, make sure “Show me in Quick add” is disabled as shown in figure 9.

Figure 9

To block a user, tap and hold on their name in the friends list (as shown in figure 10) and the settings for their user will appear. Tap on “Settings” and a new menu should pop up as shown below. Here you can manage the settings for this friend, options include Edit Name, Do Not Disturb, Mute Story, Clear Conversation, Remove Friend, Block Friend and Report as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 10
Figure 11

Snapchat best practice settings guide

Having reviewed the settings, we will now offer a best practice guide to the settings we suggest be employed to better protect the child’s use of their Apps and their device to increase their safety while accessing online content via Apps:

  • We Recommend to only allow friends to send snaps to the user preventing anyone who is not your friend from sending you messages
  • We Recommend that only selected (Custom) friends can view your story
  • We Recommend that ghost mode be turned on, so no one can see your Location or allow the use of Our Story.
  • We also recommend unticking the allow friends to request my location option.
  • We Recommend that you do not enable to be seen in Quick Add

Snapchat safety rating

Figure 12

Reflections on Snapchat

While Snapchat offers privacy and safety options for most of its features, some features are left without any consideration to these topics. The Our Story function for example which, by its very nature, allows anyone in the world to view content you specifically want the world to see.

Obviously, this was a deliberate and honest feature created by the Snapchat team, however, it raises the question as to what the digital age of consent should be set to, or rather the age at which people should be using Snapchat at. The reason why this is concerning is because our story feature allows minors to broadcast their geolocation whether knowingly or unknowingly.

As is common place within major corporations, data is shared between partners and potentially third-party data storage locations. This increases the likelihood of data breaches. While this third-party sharing of data between partners is commonplace, this also comes with an inherent risk of user data leakage.

While all the features on Snapchat can be configured and set in a way that only allows certain users to see your story, talk to you and see you on the SnapMap, it must also be considered that a child in question may change the settings when a guardian is not around. Should Snapchat be used without implementing the highest levels of safety we consider it to be a very unsafe App, particularly to children.

We do not feel that using Snapchat is suitable for minors, because of this we suggest that Snapchat must be used, if at all, within direct supervision and using the full extent of its safety options. Therefore, the score of six is only applied if the highest security settings are applied.

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