Posted on | September 18, 2013 | 1 comment
(Editor’s note: In this guest essay, Erin Nealy Cox, Executive Managing Director of digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg, outlines potentially harmful ramifications of self-deleting messages that are gaining popularity with children.)
By Erin Nealy Cox
Kids digitally document everything they do, even stupid things. They post pictures of themselves drinking, smoking pot and vandalizing private property.
This behavior is not limited to the under-age. A lot of professional adults digitally record their bad behaviors, too.
Under certain circumstances, self-destructing message apps, such as Snapchat and Facebook Poke, may be a gift to parents, human resources executives, corporate counsel, and public relations specialists alike.
Indecorous errors in judgment aren’t memorialized. They are deleted in seconds.
However, self-deleting message apps can also be put to nefarious use. Kids who are bullied or adults who are stalked may struggle to prove their cases. Predators can lure victims, comforted by the assumed ephemeral nature of the communication.
Employees may now feel armed with a more covert way of organizing fraudulent schemes. This includes, for example, insiders inclined to share private information for personal gain and executives tempted to negotiate bribes.
However, all digital communications leave a trail. Even self-destructing messages sent through apps like Snapchat and Facebook Poke can be traced and recovered. Even when the messages themselves are irretrievable, telling details such as the sender’s identity, recipient’s identity, time the message was sent and time it was opened can be brought to light.
Most parents, business leaders, and even most law enforcement officials don’t have the skills or access to digital forensic labs that are able to do this kind of work. Typically, it is only in the most important cases that the effort is made to resurrect these incriminating messages.
As a parent, I continue to impress upon my children the fact that they don’t have as much control as they think, even with self deleting messages. In fact, I simply do not permit my kids to use these kinds of apps. Parenting is challenging enough in the digital age without contending with Mission Impossible.
In the work place, it can be much harder to enforce similar restrictions. So the key is to foster a culture where there are clear lines about what is considered acceptable behavior and what isn’t. More of than not, someone who gets into the habit of sending self-destructing messages is heading down the wrong path.