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Why does Snapchat require you to give up your location to use its filters?

If you want to tint your snaps, now you need to toggle on location services. 


Kate Knibbs


Posted on May 8, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 8:39 am CDT

Snapchat’s recent update suggests the company wants more users to provide their location details.

Snapchat allows users to send disappearing photos and videos without sharing location details, but now users who want to augment their images and clips with filters have to first turn location data on.

In an older version of the app, users could toggle on their “Smart Filters” and “Visual Filters” separately. The “Smart Filters” require location sharing, because the “My Weather Channel” filter in that section needs the temperature in the place where the snaps are being taken to work. But there’s no reason why the “Visual Filters” would need to know the location of the user; they’re just your standard-issue media filters, making images sepia-toned or more saturated.

While the “My Weather Filter” is… kind of cool, I guess, if you’re really into the atmosphere, it’s also not exactly the most useful of the filters. Who really wants to share what temperature it is with their Snapchat friends? Whatever slice of the Snapchat user pie does, I’d wager a much larger chunk wants to occasionally spruce up their snaps with more traditional filters. It’s an odd choice to make users give up their location details to access filters just to abide by the requirements of one of the more novel, offbeat filters.

“We rely on location services to provide useful filters, such as speed and weather. We don’t keep locational data, and we don’t associate it with any usernames,” a Snapchat spokesperson told the Daily Dot. Snapchat also assured a user concerned about this switch that the company wasn’t using the information to track tweets.

@_24hr60sec1min nope – just providing more interesting filters – we don’t track your location!

— Snapchat (@Snapchat) May 5, 2014

Snapchat didn’t explain the decision to bundle all of the filters together so that users have to provide their location to use them, though they did point to this part of the company’s privacy policy:

With your consent, we may collect information about the location of your device to facilitate your use of certain features of our Services, determine the speed at which your device is traveling, add location-based filters to your Snaps (such as local weather), and for any other purpose described in this privacy policy.

Why Snapchat would need to collect location information for people who just want to use the visual filters remains unclear. And while Snapchat’s insistence that the company will not keep the location data or associate it with usernames may assuage some user worries, this switch does indicate the company wants more users to give up their location data, since it blocks them from using all filters unless they give it up. If they didn’t want more access to location data, they could’ve just kept the location-dependant filters separate from the visual filters and avoided this confusion. 

Snapchat’s history of protecting user data is spotty, so as it pushes users to share location data, the company will have to take care not to leak it. 

As for me, I’ll go for the #nofilter snaps and keep my location to myself. 

H/T The Wire | Illustration via Jason Reed

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*First Published: May 8, 2014, 8:00 am CDT