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

by Pat DiDomenico on February 14, 2014

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.



Category: HR Soapbox