Snapchat for Business: Beware the Legal Risks of Self-Destructing Texts

If you have teenage kids and those kids have smartphones, you’ve likely been introduced to the joys of Snapchat, the messaging app that lets users set a time limit (one to 10 seconds) on how long recipients can view their photos, videos or messages. It’s become a popular tool for sending and receiving confidential information — especially things they don’t want mom or dad to see.

Now a new breed of business-related apps like Confide and TigerText aim to make self-destructing online discussions popular in business, too. The goal: become the digital equivalent of behind-closed-doors meetings and off-the-record conversation, with no written record of the discussion.

No laws specifically prohibit auto-destruct messaging in business, but employers should be wary of the potential employment-law downside.

Among the risks, according to the Nixon Peabody law firm:

  • There is still evidence of the communication because, for evidentiary purposes, the auto-destruct message would be treated like an in-person discussion. So you or the recipient would, under oath, have to spill the beans in a deposition or courtoom if asked about the discussion.
  • Several laws actually require a record of communications. Example: Age-bias law demands employers keep records for one year “pertaining to the failure or refusal to hire” an applicant. And securities laws require the retention of certain electronic communications.
  • If you’re sued (or threatened with a lawsuit), you could face a “litigation hold” on destroying any documents. Using such an app could be viewed as obstruction of justice by a court, subjecting the person to criminal prosecution.   

Bottom line: Develop a policy on whether employees are allowed to use such self-destructing communication apps. If you do allow usage, explain in detail when employees can and cannot use the technology.