To fully understand the concern over Snap Maps and similar technology, we first need to talk about the unique risks that women experience online. Online, as in the real world, women are more likely to be targets of threats and harassment, individually or as part of larger incidents like GamerGate, than their male counterparts — a 2016 study found that 76 percent of women under 30 had been subject to online harassment.
This has led some women to be wary of apps and other tech products that could make it easier for others to find out their location, or for them to accidentally reveal their own location — products that seem to be coming out with some frequency in recent years. A number of dating apps have been found to be open to exploitation for geo-data, as have various aspects of the Apple iOS. And Google Maps' decision to add a feature that allows for location-sharing, for instance, was met with similar concerns to those around Snap Map earlier this year.
Why do the same privacy issues seem to turn up again and again? One theory is that tech teams simply don't consider the concerns of female safety when developing new technology, because many developers are male. "The privacy settings of social media sites and apps," wrote Violet Blue in her guide to privacy for girls online, "have a baseline of normal that doesn't consider that half of their users are being targeted."
"Forget about a map of where you are in real-time; for many women and underrepresented folks, even a profile picture can be a 'danger.'"
Allison Esposito, CEO and founder of the women in tech community Tech Ladies, made a similar point: when developing a product, it can be difficult to understand dangers outside of your own experiences. "I think product teams at tech companies are thinking of utility first, and safety second," she told Bustle. "They don't necessarily think about women or other folks who would be targeted, and as many of these teams are made up of men, that complicates things as well. We are all blind to certain things we don't experience.
"For example, a few months ago I noticed a large number of Asian women who apply to join Tech Ladies weren't using real photographs of themselves in their profile pictures. I'm a white woman, I've experienced targeted sexual harassment, so I thought it might have something to do with being harassed online, but wasn't certain. I asked, and learned that the volume of the sexual harassment many Asian women receive online is insanely high, and it's often combined with racist messages. This has led many Asian women just say 'f*ck it' and use a picture of something else to minimize the harassment they receive. So forget about a map of where you are in real-time; for many women and underrepresented folks, even a profile picture can be a 'danger.'"
However, the issue isn't just that products may not take women's safety concerns into account — some women also may feel social pressure to share on social media, even if doing so makes them feel unsafe. A 2013 study of teens on Facebook published in the Journal of Communication Enquiry found that "stereotypical kinds of self-exposure by girls are marks of social success and popularity," with girls facing broader social worries about the risks of being aloof, and facing a bigger "social cost" when they choose not to share. This might be why statistics show that women are greater social media users than men — for example, 83 percent of all women who are online use Facebook, while only 79 percent of men do; similarly, 38 percent of women online use Instagram, while only 26 percent of men have accounts.
There is a clear demand for safer technology; women are openly requesting better protections on online platforms like Twitter, from problems like misogynistic abuse from other users or the practice of "doxxing," in which personal data is revealed publicly. Too often, though, conversations about safety for women in particular only really erupt after a colossal breach, like Gamergate, or the onslaught of doxxing and social media abuse of Leslie Jones, or data leaks. Seeing tremendous shortfall in company responses, let alone the law, some women have established their own safety groups, like the organization Crash Override for people experiencing harassment.