Police warn of GPS tracking on Snapchat, how to protect yourself

BOSTON — Many people, including children, use Snapchat, but local police are raising serious privacy concerns over a recent software update.

The new Snap Maps feature allows friends to track your exact location every time you open the app.

When Snapchat released their new map feature last week they billed it as a "new way to explore the world,” but the concerns are that it opens up that world to unwanted attention.

“Children are unwittingly transmitting their locations in real time,” Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan said.

Ryan said offering personal information in a very public forum can be an open invitation to those intent on doing harm.

“We've seen that in home burglaries, we've seen that in some fraud cases,” he said. “Bullying, domestic violence.”

The app uses a phone’s GPS tracking and updates a user’s location every time they open it. The tracking is precise enough to pinpoint someone at a specific address.

But there is a way to turn the tracking off, an option Snapchat calls ghost mode.

"I told my son to put himself on ghost mode because there'll be none of that. I don't want my kids to be tracked by anybody,” Bella Giambusso told Boston 25 News reporter Erica Ricci at a baseball game.

Parents Ricci caught up with at a baseball game in Arlington are forming their own thoughts as they navigate yet another twist in the ever-changing social media road.

"We're just asking parents to have conversations and make responsible decisions about this matter with their children,” Ryan said.

The Snap Map updates when the app is open, even if you're not actively using it.

For parents who say they like the feature because it helps them track their kids, Chief Ryan suggested using other apps that are designed to be more private.