Useless Features Justify Data Collection

Features You Wouldn't Use

If you've been on Snapchat recently (I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't use it), you might notice some features that are completely useless. The major culprits being Snap Map and Snapchat's sign-up convenience features. Snap Map is a feature that actively stores location data for all of your friends because why wouldn't you want to know where they are at all times? Snapchat's sign-up convenience features are certain components of the sign up process that make acquiring new users a painless process.

These two features are not designed to be integral parts of Snapchat's core product. Instead, these features help Snap Inc. justify data collection practices which are unnecessary for Snapchat to function as a social platform.

Snapchat is Desperate

When a firm like Snap Inc. is directly competing with juggernauts like Facebook, it is necessary to broaden their data collection practices. Snapchat currently handles permissions for your camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone app and storage in order to operate on Android. They can justify their use of camera, microphone and storage permissions as they're required for the app to function, but what about your location, contacts and phone permissions?

The Phone Permission

Well Snap Inc. justifies those permissions by implementing useless features that give the user only the tiniest bit of convenience. Did you forget your phone number, or can you not just fill in the form when you sign up? Give Snapchat the ability to log phone calls, so they can fill in your number automatically (wow!).

Obviously they have other reasons for implementing this feature on their Android app. By giving Snapchat the permission to access the phone permission, their app can log your phone number, device IDs, whether a call is active and the numbers you're either calling or receiving a call from. There is no way of confirming whether Snapchat is collecting this information as the source code for the app is not public, but given this permission is used for such a frivolous feature, we can only assume what Snap Inc. is up to.

The Contacts Permission

Snapchat asks for your contacts when you first sign up too, so they can recommend relevant users. While I don't agree with the use of this permission, using it to better recommend friends and get new users interacting with the app makes it a reasonably justified feature.

The Location Permission

Now let's talk about Snap Map. Just like the useless feature Snapchat implemented just for filling in your phone number during sign up — this too justifies unnecessary data collection. I've used Snapchat for a few years now and, as far as I know, no one uses their map. Snap Map is a set-it-and-forget-it feature. You won't remember it exists, but Snapchat now has an excuse to constantly log user location data.

It's More Than Snapchat

A lot of social apps implement weird features that don't significantly improve the user experience, but offer a lot of data. Twitter asks for location data when handling the trending feed or search results. Facebook asks for Wi-Fi and location data to find random public Wi-Fi networks. And Instagram is handling the phone permission for the same reasons as Snapchat.

Modern apps are plagued with useless features in an effort to collect more data — protect your information and understand why it's being collected.

Article cover photo by Björn Antonissen on Unsplash.

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