We love the idea of privacy. In the era of big data it is comforting to believe that there is a communication channel that will allow us to securely send and receive sensitive data. This idea has fueled a number of developers to create mobile apps that promise anonymity.
Readers are well associated with with the popular picture sharing app, Snapchat. Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to share photos or short videos. After the picture or video has been received it automatically self-destructs in a matter of seconds.
While Snapchat has been a huge hit in among teenagers and young adults, a new startup, Confide, is creating a “Snapchat” for professionals.
Confide differs from Snapchat as it allows users to send text messages. In addition, it applies end-to-end encryption and promises that messages are never stored on their servers.
Although this is an intriguing product, lets examine why Confide and other “anonymous” apps are far from secure or anonymous.
Confide’s Security Features
Confide offers several “unique” security features to deter receivers from taking screen shots. It sends an alert to both parties if someone attempts a screen shot and each line of text is concealed until you swipe your finger over the line. Although these are interesting features, an alert might not be received if you do not have a cellphone signal.
In addition, the swipe feature does not keep someone from recording the message with another device. Users can feel slightly securer knowing that the company uses end-to-end encryption, however given enough time any encryption scheme can be broken. Recent reports by cryptography experts also suggest that ‘end-to-end encryption’ is quickly becoming a pointless security feature.
The Promise of Anonymity
Hopefully, the above rundown has given you a slight pause about using an encryption app. I would like to take a moment to review the general myth behind these types of apps. These apps promise you a sense of privacy and anonymity. I think these myths are believed due to a general lack of knowledge about how technology and the Internet works.
The idea of anonymity goes against a primary rule of using the Internet. Everything you post or send online is public. When you send something through the Internet it goes through a number of servers and locations. Copies are created and information is saved. Even if the private sector is not storing your data you have no idea which governmental agencies are saving your data for future analysis.
Who’s Collecting Information?
Once again I question whether the general public realizes an exchange is taking place. You are buying the “free app” with your personal information. For example, a very popular Android flashlight app is under investigation by the FTC for transmitting users’ precise location and device identifier to other companies.
What this means for PR
The idea that technology (specifically the Internet) provides a secure and private means of transmitting confidential information is a myth. As public relations professionals we should realize the potential damages and ethical issues surrounding the use of these types of “anonymous” communication apps.
We should undertake an advocacy role in explaining the weaknesses of these apps to our various stakeholders and administrators. In fact, like social media, it might be necessary to address these types of technologies in our digital communication policies. Do you use an encryption app? If so I would like to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic.