There are some things in the Surveillance Economy that are so explicitly ignorant that it defies ethical sensibility. On a planet where there are so many narcissists that pride themselves on being smarter than everyone else how is it that we have so much passivity and ignorance on things that violate the moral standards of individual freedom? In the face of simple standards of principle, the ‘intelligent narcissist’ gets exposed as a coward.
The most horrifying tool that I have seen on social media is the introduction of SnapChat Maps. SnapChat Maps takes surveillance to the next level allowing SnapChat users the ability to permanently share their geolocation with fellow SnapChat ‘friends’. This feature is terrifying for the following reasons:
First, social pressure means that children are being coerced into permanently offering their geolocation. According to the LSE 23% of Snapchat users haven’t graduated from high school. The age limit of Snapchat is 13. Therefore, peer groups are adopting Snapchat maps at a very early age normalising and coercing one another into offering geolocation.
Second, children are too young to conceptualise the impact of permanently offering their geolocation to SnapChat friends and are likely completely unaware of the vulnerability to cyberstalking and online harassment – in the United Kingdom stalking cases increased from 32,000 between April 2019 and March 2020 to 98,863 between April 2020 and March 2021 making it the UK’s most significant new crime, Paladin, the national stalking advocacy group, says most stalking involves a cyber element. Moreover, 13-18-year olds are politically powerless, they cannot vote, and thus are theoretically voiceless in regard to communicating their attitudes towards the adoption of social media tools. This lack of communication between social media users, adults, politicians and technology companies are likely an explanation for why law makers and the media focus greatly on subjects like self-harm and suicide, because these actions are the only time that children are able to make contact with social media companies. This demonstrates a failure in communication between young people and the social media companies that is likely to lead to a product focused on the extraction of behavioural data and a deadly disregard for the user.
Third, SnapChat are normalising unprecedented levels of social surveillance at a very early age, from the point of view of SnapChat Maps this is excellent because it gives them access to geolocation data which is a very lucrative form of behavioural data and bruises the political mind before it has had time to fully develop.
Fourth, Snapchat friends are very often casual and loose ties that one may have met once or twice at a party or social gathering. While it is acceptable to become social media ‘friends’ with someone after meeting just once, it is completely unacceptable that after meeting someone once they are then provided your geolocation data for the rest of your life spent on SnapChat.
In 2018 SnapChat considered scrapping SnapChat Maps for 13 to 16 year olds in Europe in response to GDPR. They didn’t. The ICO codes of practice seems to support my arguments on the security threat posed by sharing geolocation data, stating the ‘risk that the data could be misused to compromise the physical safety of that child. In short it can make children vulnerable to risks such as abduction, physical and mental abuse, sexual abuse and trafficking. Persistent sharing of location may also mean that children have a diminished sense of their own private space which may affect the development of their sense of their own identity.’. However, the remedies offered to alleviate the anxieties over the sharing of children’s geolocation data offer insufficient support. They claim that standards can be met by ‘ensuring that geolocation options are off by default’, ‘making it obvious to the child that their location is being tracked’ and ‘reverting settings which make the child’s location visible to others to ‘off’ after each use’. After talking with the ICO there seem to be a major problem associated with the ICO definition. The definition and guidance only applies towards the sharing of geolocation data with social media companies and fails to acknowledge the problem of sharing geolocation data with other social media users. Consequently, these overestimate the degree of individual consent towards privacy within the culture of social media and do not ensure that other social media users follow the guidelines that the social media company is following. If SnapChat has become the hegemonic form of social media within a social circle, the culture will be to connect with hundreds of SnapChat ‘friends’, then those hundreds of ‘friends’ will expect one another to use tools like SnapChat Maps because in part because it has been suggested by a multibillion pound social media company and adopted by hundreds of millions of users.
Social Media tools invite the modes of behaviour. SnapChat invites people to send second long flash images. Instagram invites people to upload pictures to a blog. Whatsapp invites people to send messages. Such is the fundamental drive for sociability amongst primates, if the social media site which is used by billions invites people to use a tool, they are creating social norms and thus unreasonably coercing them into a form of behaviour that compromises the limits of individual consent, exposing the gross social reality being implemented by SnapChat, that it would be ‘anti-social’ to attempt to protect oneself from ‘abduction, physical and mental abuse, sexual abuse and trafficking’.
I believe that SnapChat maps needs to be removed for all users. I’m not sure how it can be compatible with GDPR laws on Geolocation data. My intuition tells me it is illegal and I’m happy to cooperate with lawyers that would like to strike down this pathetic manifestation of surveillance capitalism.