The Danger of Disappearing Messages (This Tape Will Now Self-Destruct, Mr. Phelps…)

What would you say in a business email if you knew that your message would disappear within moments of being read? With “Confide” – a new application for mobile messaging which mimics the here now, gone again nature of Snapchat – your message would self-destruct within moments after it is read, thereby raising new concerns for corporate risk officers and general counsel.

According to its website:

Confide lets you say what you want, honest and unfiltered. Messages disappear after they’re read, ensuring all of your communication remains private, confidential and always off the record.

Worried that the recipient of this really off-the-record message might take a screen shot? Worry no more, as Confide will “alert you if a screenshot is attempted.” Meanwhile, end-to-end encryption promises to ensure that no one but your intended recipient receives your email.

Evolution, at Warp Speed

Teens have embraced using Snapchat to send photos that are erased within 10 seconds of being opened, making it the second-most popular free photo and video app for the iPhone in early 2013. The company claims that more than 50 million snaps are sent every day.

The idea of using Snapchat or similar software for potential illicit activities in the business community has been previously speculated upon, not only on our very site, but in New York Magazine:

For months now, tech-savvy Wall Street ne’er-do-wells have (presumably) been using Snapchat, bankers’ favorite disappearing-photo app, to conduct their illicit insider trading. And it (again, presumably) worked great, until this morning, when CNBC’s party-pooper-in-chief, Jim Cramer, had to go and warn Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who is leading a massive crackdown on insider trading, about Snapchat’s usefulness for doing illegal stuff.

Disavowing Any Knowledge of Your Actions

It’s now been roughly 12 years since we saw the demise of a major, global accounting firm (perhaps you recall Arthur Andersen), which no longer exists in large part due to the destruction of corporate records.

Businesses in the 21st century operate under a plethora of legal, regulatory and compliance requirements to preserve business records, including e-mails and financial records, so that many firms have formal document retention programs.

Today, we are in the midst of a worldwide wave of regulatory crackdowns and insider trading prosecutions. The mere existence or usage of such applications may serve to suggest that illicit corporate conduct is taking place. Those in corporate compliance are likely to forbid their usage in a business context which would put company users in a tenuous position from the very start.

Related Fun

For Mission Impossible fans, the old TV show where our hero received his instructions in the opening scene via a tape recorder where the message self-destructed. See this clip for a pleasant reminder of those days.

About Ann Longmore

Ann is Executive Vice President of Willis' Executive Risks practice. Based in New York, she has been with the compa…
Categories: Executive Risk, Financial Services

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