When I first heard of Evan Spiegal’s Snapchat it really made no sense to me. Why would you not want your messages to persist, so you can look through them at a later date? It seemed to me like an app for people to send silly and trivial messages to each other. But recently I realised it might be a little more than sending a random selfie with a strange looking person you’re sitting next to on the bus ride home. Snapchat and the new ilk of vanishing messaging apps might be part of a bigger trend for privacy - let me explain.
It is now widely known (due to ‘superstar’ whistleblowers) that governments have been utilising modern infrastructure to spy on its civilians on an epic scale. Governments may have been infiltrating the mega-corps like Google and Facebook, potentially allowing them to play Peeping Tom into billions of private and public messages.
Now look at the increasing number of retrospective investigations happening at the moment. In the UK media there has been the whole hacking and News of the World scandal. In the world of banking, there is an ongoing FX/IR rigging debacle. These two investigations could be interpreted as retrospective investigations, as when the events were happing in real time - nobody within the specific industries thought they were doing anything off kilter, they probably just thought they were doing their jobs well. The reason these investigations were possible in the first place is because of the availability of the digital correspondence including phone logs, emails and instant messages.
In the past it would have been much more difficult to go back retrospectively and investigate. Look for example into the allegations into the UK houses of parliament and destruction of key documents that may have brought to light certain wrongdoings to the vulnerable in society. However with the ability to store digital communication, process and retrieve almost everything nowadays - this opens up the ability to investigate cases on a historical basis. This is all fine if for example, you are selling some illegal substance, and it is against the law to do so at the time. However, potentially in the above media and banking cases, (I am no lawyer) but it is not 100% clear cut that laws were being broken at the time. The persistence of digital communication means that even if your intentions are good, there is a risk that a re-interpretation of the law in some future time could land you in some very hot water.
A friend having read my previous post on “The permanence of digital communication”, suggested that using crypto could be a way of securing your digital interactions, so only you could read it. There are potentially two issues with this. First is that currently there is no mass consumer service which allows this and has taken off. The second is that even if say, Google or Facebook allows to use crypto to secure your messages so only you and your recipient can access them, depending on how the encryption is done - the law could demand that they be given the digital keys to access the communication (So you see encryption is only as strong as you keep the keys to yourself). The reason given to access your keys? - the law at some future time of course! - which may have been different to when you were sending the correspondence.
I have yet to read into the complete technology stack and methodology of vanishing messaging applications, so don’t know exactly whether the messages are stored centrally at the corporation servers or whether they are as is per the application and deleted once transmitted to the client mobile in order to maintain privacy. It would be good if they were encrypted when sending, so nobody could snoop along the pipes. OK, you can take a screenshot to save your friends message but that isn’t the point, the point is to prevent mass archiving from external sources.
I find it very interesting that applications such as Snapchat, TapTalk and Sobrr may have slipped through the net and although started as a popular app for the younger demographic (school/university) of the population for sending trivial communications - they maybe the kind of communication apps the masses may adopt one day to use in their daily lives - to prevent their privacy being impeached in future times, retrospectively. If you’re a VC or a start up - it might be the time to double down on vanishing messaging apps which highlights privacy as its key strength. Privacy (and power) to the people I say.
Might apps like Snapchat signal the trend where society has a thirst for messaging apps which maintain your privacy?