Dear Ms. Smartphone: My tween asked to use my credit card so she could get a Snapchat subscription. It’s only $3.99 a month but I don’t understand the need and she did not explain it to me very clearly. When I went on their web site I was even more confused since it seems like a free app. She mostly uses the app with a group of her girlfriends from school. So Snapchat, should I subscribe? Luna, Mill Valley
Dear Luna: I have some ideas for a subscription that you will hopefully find useful but first let me mention two preliminaries. As a parent, you should be aware of the map feature on Snapchat. Some users call it “creepy.” Enabled by default, the map allows any of your daughter’s friends to see her exact GPS location when she last opened the app. This is accurate enough to determine your home address.Not good! However, it can be disabled in the app’s settings. Second you did not mention the age of your tween but note that the legal age to open a Snapchat account is thirteen.
Now, back to subscriptions. Snapchat is following in the footsteps of Twitter and Telegram with the subscription offer. It would be a good idea in my opinion if social media companies used monthly subscriptions to show us fewer ads, and if they agreed to not sell our data and tighten up their privacy policies. So far that has not happened. These premium subscriptions are geared towards power users and frequent viewers who value more custom features.
A few years ago I wrote a column on a for-fee feature on Snap that let the user select custom stickers and text. The Verge, which has reviewed the current subscription offering finds similar changes. They called the new subscription a “mostly cosmetic upgrade.” The $3.99 subscription will let users change the app’s icon, see who watched a story multiple times, and pin a friend at the top of the chat history as a BFF. That doesn’t sound like a lot for $3.99 a month, but there are probably other reasons that your tween or teen would favor it. Perhaps they want to be the first in their social group to try it out and/or they are a power user who plans to demonstrate advanced skills and expertise with the app.
Last I checked, a subscription is a product or service we pay for on a reoccurring basis, say for Internet service or our phone plans. Snap, on the other hand, obfuscates the meaning of a subscription. With their free account you can interact with friends you personally knew, or post a subscription channel. In that case stories go to different viewers, not just friends. For instance, Snap allows a subscription channel for your dog and doggie pictures you select go out to anyone who cares to follow. These subscribers would be unlikely to follow your personal content. Snapchat also offers the opportunity to “subscribe” to a big, outside media channel. News outlets, like the UK Daily Mail, have popular subscriptions on Snapchat. Note the multiples types of Snap ‘subscriptions’!
A Better Subscription:
So, while Snapchat has had subscriptions for free and now a new one for fee, I have a suggestion for an entirely better one. For marginally larger fee you can sign your tween up for an online subscription to your local newspaper, or a national one. I would recommend you consider this because the news feed we get on social media is highly personalized yet incomplete. Social media sites construct feeds with content that matches the users’ point of view to keep them engrossed and sell more ads. It’s called a filter bubble. Newspapers have less imperative to select content this way and they actually employ journalists to write the stories they post! Newspaper reporting is usually the basis for most of the watered down feeds your daughter will read on Snapchat and other social media. So, it’s valuable to expose her to the original stories and get her in the habit of reading a daily paper. If you are planning to get the $3.99 subscription to Snap then I think you owe it to your daughter to spend a little more each month and get a subscription with depth and analysis. It doesn’t sounds like this would present a hardship but be aware that your local library or school will have a subscription service to the newspaper on offer- something that Snapchat does not!