A man spied on young girls using Snapchat
Parents should be aware that a new Snapchat feature increases the chances that a total stranger can know where your child is at any given time. (Photo: Getty Images)
A Tempe man suspected of using a popular app to find teen girls to watch through their bedroom windows is serving as a warning to parents and their children, experts say.
Steven Anthony Spoon, 34, admitted to police that he befriended teen girls by posing as a girl on Snapchat, a messaging and video app popular with young people.
He then found where they lived when their app location services were turned on and watched as they showered or changed, according to court records.
Another man was arrested in 2018 in Cottonwood on suspicion of sexually assaulting a young girl after finding her through the Snapchat location feature, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
Richard Edwards, 55, showed up unannounced at the girl’s house while she was alone and assaulted her, then tracked her whereabouts and molested her at other locations in the following weeks, police said.
Parents need to understand the risks children may face from seemingly harmless apps like Snapchat, said Katina Michael, a professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
While it’s important for parents to trust kids, they also need to talk about staying safe, she said. Michael encourages parents to communicate daily with children about their online activity instead of in a single conversation.
“We’ve got a bigger problem here: We’ve got tools in the hands of children,” Michael said. “As parents we have to be aware.”
The Snapchat location feature known as Snap Map launched in 2017. It allows users to share their locations with friends while the app is open.
Users can choose privacy settings that designate whether their location will be shared with all friends, selected friends or no friends. If a user chooses to share locations with all friends, the information will be shared with all future friends as well.
Parents should consider shutting off GPS-locator settings on children’s phones and apps, said Steve Corman, director of ASU’s Center for Strategic Communication.
“You can easily avoid revealing this kind of information by turning off location services on your phone,” Corman said. “Of course, you also lose the benefits that come with those services, so it’s a trade off.”
Snapchat offers tips for protecting user privacy, such as frequently checking settings to ensure location information is only being shared in ways the user intends.
Users can choose a Snapchat privacy setting called “ghost mode” to hide their location from everyone. They can go further, by turning off “allow friends to request my location” to prevent friends from asking for a user’s location through a private message.
But even with the strictest privacy settings enabled, Snapchat users should be careful not to accidentally share their location by submitting images to “Our Story,” a public feature that displays what people are doing on a map and in the app.
Snapchat suggests “only submitting things to Our Story that you don’t mind other people seeing, including street signs or landmarks that can indicate your location.”
Snapchat has been used as a tool to commit other recent crimes in Arizona.
Two men were arrested in October in connection with two murders during drug deals in Tempe. A witness told police that the suspects arranged meetings through Snapchat to purchase marijuana, according to court records.
Michael, a parent who has researched location-based social networking as a professor, said the tech industry needs to do a better job of protecting children.
“Companies need to be held accountable for the services they offer,” she said. “If you’re going to open an app, almost open to anyone, then you need to have the appropriate measures to curb this kind of stalking.”
Snapchat recently updated its terms of service to require users to declare that they are not a convicted sex offender.