Disappearing Messages and the Challenge of Privacy in Professional Comms

Safeguarding one's privacy – online, offline and everywhere in between – is priceless. When it comes to digital communication, we want to trust that our messages are being viewed only by the intended recipient. But as technology has evolved, so has the evolution of data breaches and the possibility that those once for-your-eyes-only comms could be seen by countless others. Most people have wised up to understanding the ulterior motives behind a lot of major businesses, which has led to an overall mistrust of technology and a need to take back our sense of privacy by hiding communications – or removing them completely. 

The advent of disappearing messages has given users a whole new sense of security and confidentiality, protecting themselves against the snooping eyes of hackers or major corporations. But when people in professional settings use these ways to communicate about sensitive topics like finances, or otherwise are legally required to leave a paper trail, even bigger issues can arise. 

Disappearing Messages: A Brief History

It was once a novel concept to send or receive a message, photo or video that you could only view for a couple of seconds. While SnapChat wasn’t the first, they championed this way of communication with their platform where disappearing messages was their entire appeal. This feature offered their users exclusivity, with users getting a rush knowing they had to soak up what they were viewing. But perhaps more importantly, it offered next-level privacy. Soon after, other platforms started to integrate disappearing messages into their platforms, where it has since become the standard way of sending and receiving messages for a lot of people.

When Disappearing Messages Reappear

There are several reasons why someone would be drawn to using a platform that offers disappearing messages (as opposed to Apple’s iMessage which, poignantly, has never implemented the feature, despite countless requests over the years), but those messages can often find their way back to life.

With messages being automatically deleted, the risk of having receipts, as it were, is removed. And even though one can still take a screenshot, all parties involved – the screenshotter and the screenshottee – will receive a notification, thus breaking the unsung moral code that is communicating on such a platform and defeating the purpose of this level of privacy.

Outside of screenshots, there are other ways to capture these messages where the sender would have no idea, like taking a photo on another device. This is where this type of communication gets risky for those in financial fields or other areas where information passed between client and customer is extremely sensitive. 

Considering the Legal Implications

Disappearing messages also raise a flag around FINRA and SEC compliance, where communications in certain industries must be archived or risk a massive fine. There may even be internal policies that mandate the ability to pull up receipts at a moment's notice, which is, of course, not possible if they’ve disappeared. Additionally, there may be platform-specific policies that mention their ability (or not) to archive or retain these disappearing messages (and not all can bring those messages back). There’s also the option to integrate a third-party application to save or archive messages before they disappear, though unregulated apps like these may pose their own set of concerns around privacy and security. 

When communication around sensitive subjects is in play, it’s always best to do so on a platform where the ability to save and archive the information is possible, like iMessage or email. But in the end, it’s up to each organization how they want to entrust their employees to communicate in a way that feels most comfortable and realistic. Regardless, being transparent about the policies around archiving and retaining messaging – disappearing ones or otherwise – is necessary for ensuring legal compliance and integrity amongst client relationships.