Forty years ago, few people saw how the advent of the personal computer would change not only the shape of business, but the fabric of society itself. The technology industry changes so quickly that businesses and the legal profession have trouble creating policies to keep up with their appropriate usage. Within that gap, we rely on early adopters to define how these tools will be integrated into our culture. As Steve Jobs put it:
Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them. It’s not the tools that you have faith in — tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not.
What is Confide?
We first saw ephemeral messaging with Snapchat, an application for temporary photo sharing that became so popular a few years ago. Now we have a new encrypted, disappearing, screenshot-proof messaging app, Confide, which is geared towards business professionals.
While there are similar products on the market, Confide made news this past week by announcing its support of images and cloud-based documents.
Confide touts it’s strength in that it’s servers are unable to possess a recoverable copy of the message due to end-to-end military encryption and client-side document pre-processing.
In addition, Confide allows the receiver to view the document only once and, at that, only a few words (or, in the case of an image, a slice) at a time. The document cannot be saved, forwarded, or screen-capped. The app beeps menacingly, destroys the message, and notifies the sender when someone attempts a screen shot.
Jon Brod created Confide as a way to “…bring off-the-record communication online.” He says he wants people to easily communicate digitally those things that people generally only feel comfortable discussing in-person or on the phone and that these backchannel communications happen all the time: over lunch, on the phone, or in the hallway:
This is truly a need, not just with respect to countries and territories but industries. The effects of the Sony hacks are such that there are executives in boardrooms around the world rethinking their digital communication strategies.
While there are legitimate situations that call for discretion such as job referrals, HR issues, or deal details, there always exists the probability of unethical uses. Skirting the legal duties of document preservation, or underhanded practices such as discrimination or insider trading cannot be prevented. Brod contends that Confide is a tool and that it up to businesspeople to use it “…in a way that is legal and appropriate for their individual circumstances.”
Temporary communications also have the potential for some very positive change in the business world. Confidential conversations can occur in real time as opposed to finding a mutual free block in people’s schedules. Furthermore, this messaging can ease the burden of retention when properly defined in corporate policies.
Because both parties must have unique keys residing on their phones Confide, in particular, prevents a recipient who does not also have the app from seeing the document. This adds an additional layer of protection against human error.
Use the Force for Good
Confide and apps like it portend huge changes in the way we send and receive information.
We trust that the people with whom we interact will hold themselves to a high moral and ethical standard. The best way a business can encourage ethical behavior — and legally protect themselves — is to create clear-cut policies regarding the use of ephemeral communications.
Like home computers, time will tell if auto-destruct messaging is the Next Big Thing. And like all tools, non-permanent communication can be used for ill or good. It is up to us to choose how we will wield it. I have faith in you.