Snap Map

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Snap Map's Interface[1] ©USA Today
Snap Map is a feature of the mobile application Snapchat. It allows a user to share their location with their friends on the app, as well as view the location of their friends who choose to share it. The location of the user and their friends are displayed on an interface similar to that of other mapping applications like Google Maps, and allows the user to message or send a ‘snap’ to their friends directly from the map itself.[1] The user can choose whether their friends can see their location, as well as specifically select which friends are allowed to see their location.[2]

Snap Map contains several features, such as Bitmoji, which are avatars that are intended to emulate the user’s physical appearance, a heatmap, which show areas of high activity on Snapchat, and many others. As of January 2022, over 250 million Snapchat users use Snap Map every month.[3]

There have been ethical concerns about Snap Map in regard to user privacy and mental health, especially among the younger demographic. As of October 2021, 41.4 percent of Snapchat’s users were between the ages of 13 and 20.[4] These concerns arise from the fact that it is very easy to pinpoint a user’s location on Snap Map, which could put the user at risk. Also, the user can easily see which of their friends are together at a given time, which can lead to feelings of exclusion and have a negative impact on the user's mental health. [5]


Snapchat acquired Zenly in May 2017, which is an app that allows friends to track each others’ locations. [6] Zenly uses data from Mapbox, OpenStreetMap, and DigitalGlobe to display its maps.[7]

Snap Map was launched in June 2017, powered by Zenly’s technology. Upon initial release, it allowed users to see the locations of their friends, to toggle whether others could see their locations, and to view public "snaps" posted by users around the world.[7] In May 2018, a feature called “Map Explore” was introduced, which allowed the user to see updates about their friends’ whereabouts and travel, and to see featured stories of breaking news events happening around the world.[8] The “My Places” feature was released in July 2021, which shows the user popular places near them, and also allows them to bookmark their favorite places.[9] In November 2021, Snap Map added two “Layers” to its interface: Memories, which shows the users the locations of the “snaps” that they have saved in their Snap Memories; and Explore, which displays public posts from events going on at the moment anywhere in the world.[10]

Location Settings

Settings for Location Sharing on Snap Map[11] ©Marissa Perino / Business Insider
It is completely optional for a user to share their location with their friends on Snap Map. Even if a user opts to not share their location, they can still view the location of their friends who choose to share their location with them.

There are 4 options that a user can choose from in regard to sharing their location on Snap Map[12]:

  • Ghost Mode: This option allows the user to hide their location from every user on their friends list. In other words, nobody can see their location. When the user toggles Ghost Mode on, they have the option to be in this mode for 3 hours, 24 hours, or Until Turned Off. If the last option is chosen, nobody will be able to see the user’s location until they choose to turn off Ghost Mode. When Ghost Mode is enabled, the user can still see their own Bitmoji on their map, but it is holding up a blue sign with a ghost icon, similar to that of Snapchat’s logo.
  • My Friends: If the user chooses this option, then everyone on their friends list can see their location. Only people who the user has added as a friend can see their location. If someone else has added them as a friend, but the user has not added them back, then that person still cannot see the user’s location.
  • My Friends, Except…: This option allows the user to select people from their friends list and prevent them from viewing their location. The only people who can see the user’s location are those who are not selected under this option. This option is used for when the user does not want certain people on their friends list to view their location. The user can change which friends cannot see their location at any time.
  • Only These Friends: The user chooses which of their friends can see their location. People on the user’s friends list who are not chosen under this option cannot see the user’s location. This option is suited for when the user wants to limit who can see their location to a select few friends. The user can change who can see their location at any time.

A user’s location on the Snap Map only updates when they have the app open, and they disappear from the map if they do not open the app after a certain amount of time.

A user can select someone from their friends list and request their location if they are not already sharing it. However, the user is able to go into their settings and turn off the ability for their friends to request their location.[12] The user can also share their location to their friends directly via Snapchat’s “Chat” feature.


Snap Map has various features available to the user. Since it was introduced, Snapchat has continuously been adding new features to Snap Map to enhance the user experience.


Snap Map detects the user is at the airport and diaplays an Actionmoji of the user's Bitmoji on an airplane. The timestamp is displayed when someone's Bitmoji is selected on the map.[13] ©POPSUGAR Photography / Paul Kabat
On the Snap Map interface, the user’s location is marked by a Bitmoji, which is an avatar that the user can customize to look like them. In order to customize the Bitmoji, the user must download the Bitmoji app, as the Snapchat app does not have that functionality. The user links their Snapchat account to the Bitmoji app, where they can customize their physical features (such as hair, eyes, nose shape, etc.), as well as their clothing.


Directly under a user’s Bitmoji on the map, their name is displayed, along with a relative timestamp. The timestamp indicates the amount of time that has passed since the user last had the Snapchat app open on their device. Their location on the map reflects where the user was at the time indicated by the timestamp. Therefore, a user can infer when was the last time someone else had the app open, if that person is showing their location. If a user has the app open, then the words “Just Now” will appear instead of a timestamp. A user will disappear from the map altogether after several hours have passed without any activity on the Snapchat app.


Usually, a user’s Bitmoji is shown to just be standing on the map. However, Snapchat can detect the type of location where a user is, as well as when the user may be traveling, and change their Bitmoji to reflect their current activity that has been detected.[14] For example, if the user is in a moving car on the highway, the Bitmoji is depicted to be inside a car. Snapchat can also detect if the user is using their headphones, and then put headphones on their Bitmoji and make it look like they are listening to music. When a user’s Bitmoji is depicted to be doing a certain activity on the map, it is called an Actionmoji.[14]

Although an Actionmoji can be automatically updated through Snapchat’s activity detection, a user can also manually update it. If the user opens Snap Map and selects the “My Bitmoji” option, they can choose one from many different Actionmojis to mark their location on the map. The Actionmoji they select will stay on the map for 4 hours, or until the user manually changes it again.[15]


On Snap Map, users can post public stories (pictures that disappear after a certain amount of time) that can be seen by anyone, even if they are not friends on the app. These stories can be viewed by tapping on “hotspots” that show up on the map. Like a heatmap, these hotspots vary in color (blue, yellow, red) to indicate the level activity at a certain location.[16] When a hotspot on the map is red, it usually indicates that there is very high activity and that there is an event or large gathering happening at that location.

Map Layers

The Memories Layer displays the locations where the user's saved pictures and videos were taken[10] ©Snap Inc.
The Snap Map Layers features allows the user to use the map for more than just seeing where their friends are. The user can view different “layers” of the map for different purposes, such as for major events happening near them, and for viewing their Snap Memories. When a layer is turned on, the user’s friends are removed from the map’s display.


The Explore layer displays specific public stories of major events that are currently going on, such as concerts or sports events. Similar to the heat map, it displays public stories where there are high levels of activity, even if there’s not a specific event going on at that location. When this layer is turned on, the user is able to view public stories from anywhere in the world.[10][15]


Snap Memories is a feature on Snapchat that allows the user to save pictures and videos to a library within the app. The date, time, and location of each “memory” is saved. Snap Memories are private to a user and cannot be seen by others. When a user selects the Memories Layer on Snap Map, the map displays all of their Snap Memories at the location they were taken. If the user has the map more zoomed out, Memories are grouped by location.[10][15]

My Places

My Places feature on Snap Map[9] ©Snap Inc.
The My Places feature on Snap Map allows the user to see popular businesses and other places near them, and view further details about these places such as hours and reviews. When the user selects this feature, it is divided into three tabs:[9]
  • Popular: This tab displays popular places near the user, such as restaurants. The recommendations displayed under this tab are tailored to the user based on the places they have visited and the places they have marked as their favorite. The recommendations are also partially based on where the user’s friends and other Snapchat users have visited as well.
  • Favorites: Users can mark certain locations as their “favorite.” Any locations that the user has marked as their favorite appears under this tab.
  • Visited: This tab displays the places that the user has visited. Snapchat keeps track of this by saving the places from the user’s “Snaps” (photos and videos) where they tagged the location.

Friends Tray

When a user clicks on the Friends Tray at the bottom of the Snap Map screen, it displays which of their friends are sharing their location with them. The user can select a specific friend to see where they are. This tab also shows certain updates about their friends’ locations, such as if they travel a long distance. Users can only see these updates about friends who are sharing their location with them, and updates about the user can only be seen by friends they are sharing their location with. The Friends Tray also features a list of public stories for events happening around the world.[15]

Web Version

Web version of Snap Map. Anyone can see hotspots and public stories for various events.[17] ©Snap Inc.
When Snap Map was originally introduced, it was only available to users who logged in to the Snapchat mobile application. In 2018, the map was made available on the web for anyone to see [External Link], with limited features.[18] The web version of Snap Map allows users to see the heatmap and view public stories from anywhere in the world. Users can also search for certain locations, similar to other mapping applications. The interface contains featured events in the side bar, such as sports events that are currently going on.

The heat map and public stories on Snap Map are known to show first-hand footage of breaking news events around the world in real time. Snapchat made the Snap Map available publicly on the web so that news outlets can access these. News outlets, as well as anyone on the web, can embed stories from the Snap Map into their articles, similar to how posts from other social media websites and applications can be embedded into articles. The public "snaps" that are embedded in articles on websites will disappear after 30 days, which is much longer than the usual lifetime of a snap (24 hours).[18] This presents an opportunity for reporters to show footage from unfolding events right at the scene, but this footage is only temporary.

Stories from the Snap Map can be embedded into articles individually, grouped by a specific event, or grouped by a specific location or region in the world. Public posts to the Snap Map are anonymous, the the usernames of those who posted them will not be shared when the posts are embedded externally. The only information that can be inferred from the embedded posts is the location. [19]

Ethical Concerns

Since the launch of Snap Map, there have been multiple ethical concerns expressed about the Snapchat feature. There have been concerns about user privacy, since their location is being shared with other users, as well as concerns about the user’s mental health. There’s also concerns about people potentially being able to use Snap Map for serious crimes such as stalking and terrorism. Issues have also come up with the underlying technology of Snap Map getting hacked.

Location Tracking and User Privacy

A major ethical concern that has come up with Snap Map is the fact that a user’s location is so easily shared with others on the app, especially considering Snapchat’s young user base. Usually, most of a user’s “friends” on Snapchat are people who they are not actually friends with in real life nor even talk to, which brings about even more concern.[20] If a user zooms in close enough on the map, there is enough detail to figure out which building or house someone is in.[21][22] In other words, Snap Map makes it very easy to find the address of where someone is located, which can put the user at risk if it is seen by someone with criminal intentions.

Snapchat does allow the user to opt out of Snap Map, or to customize who can see their location. When a user is first exposed to the feature, they have to opt-in if they want to share their location, otherwise it won’t be shared with other users. However, when the feature was first introduced, some users were led to believe that the feature was for adding a geotag to their pictures taken on Snapchat, rather than sharing their location continuously with everyone on their friends list. This led to people sharing their location with other users without even realizing it.[21]

Snapchat has stated that they value the safety of their users, and that Snap Map is safe since the user is in control of who sees their location and most interactions on Snapchat are between real-life close friends.[21][23]

Several law enforcement authorities, as well as advocacy groups such as The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, have released statements regarding Snap Map and safety. Most of these statements discourage Snapchat users, especially minors, from using the Snap Map feature, and to put themselves on “Ghost Mode.”[24]

Criminal Incidents

Multiple incidents of crime have occurred where the criminal used Snap Map to track down their victims. In 2018, a 55-year-old man in Arizona sexually assaulted a teenage girl multiple times, using Snap Map to track her exact location. He ended up getting arrested for the assaults.[25][26] In 2019, another man in Arizona, age 34, posed as a teenage girl on Snapchat and befriended actual teenage girls. He would use the Snap Map feature to track down the address of these girls and stalk and spy on them, which he was eventually arrested for.[25][27] A man was arrested in France for stabbing a man that his ex-girlfriend was with. He tracked down the ex-girlfriend’s location using Snap Map.[28]

Heatmaps, Soft Targets, and Surveillance

There is also concern brought about by the heatmap feature of Snap Map. Since the heatmap shows where big groups of people are gathering in real time, these areas could potentially become “soft targets” for terrorist attacks. This means that potential terrorists can easily locate and attack a large group of people or an ongoing event at any moment using Snap Map.[29] However, the Snap Map can also be useful for investigators since it can also provide live updates of any breaking major events.[30]

Another point of concern with the heatmap on Snap Map is that it can be used for surveillance. For example, public stories on the heatmap from a protest can be used by law enforcement to identify individuals at the protest, using facial recognition. However, footage from the Snap Map might not be so helpful for identifying individuals if it is low-quality or if there is not adequate metadata attached to it.[31]

User Mental Health

Snap Map can also have a negative effect on the mental health of its users, especially those of younger generations. A user can use Snap Map and discover that their friends are together without them, leading to feelings of exclusion and FOMO (fear of missing out). Many young people today already experience these feelings due to other social media networks such as Instagram, and Snap Map can potentially add on to this.[32][33]

Snap Map can also cause a user to have more stress, and have a negative effect on someone’s personal relationships. Stress can be brought about when someone realizes when a user realizes that someone who they do not want to see their location can see where they are. Personal (usually romantic) relationships can be strained when Snap Map is used by one party to surveill the other, which leads to disputes about personal boundaries.[33]

Hacking Incident

In 2018, the mapping software that is used for Snap Map, OpenStreetMap, was hacked, and the name for New York City was replaced with “Jewtropolis” on the map. The anti-Semetic change to the map was reversed after a user brought it to Snapchat’s attention. Both Snapchat and OpenStreetMap issued apologies about the incident and condemned the offensive language that was used. Although other attempts to change the map did not succeed, OpenStreetMap also stated that they were working on improving their quality assurance system so that edits like these are not made to the map again.[34]


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