WhatsApp’s New Disappearing Message Feature – What it is and the Legal Hurdles it Brings?

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With the ‘new normal’ that pandemic has brought along, work-life has become more dependent on mobile instant messaging (IM) apps as much as official emails. Aiming for business continuity despite the current scenario, work-life and personal life have become intertwined. This has increased the dependence of the working-class on mobile messaging applications like WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, and Signal to communicate business information. In this light, it is important to keep a record of every instance of using these apps for business purposes.

WhatsApp has launched a new feature, which, if not taken care of, can tarnish the reputation of the business due to the loss of critical information. The feature enables the user to send messages that disappear on WhatsApp by enabling disappearing messages. Once enabled, new messages sent in the individual or group chat will disappear after seven days. The most recent selection controls all messages in the chat. This setting won’t affect messages that were previously sent or received in the chat. In an individual chat, either user can turn disappearing messages on or off. In a group chat, any group participants can turn disappearing messages on or off. However, a group admin can change group settings to allow only admins to turn disappearing messages on or off.

There are growing concerns that such features can be misused to avoid accountability. Lawyers are now gearing up to bring a judicial review against the use of automatically disappearing messages, on the basis that using such functions makes it impossible to carry out the required legal checks in case a court proceeding happens and the messages turn out to be evidence.

Recently, JPMorgan Chase & Co. issued a memo asking its traders, bankers, financial advisers, and certain branch employees to dig out work-related text messages from their personal as well as work mobile devices. This includes messages from popular mobile IM apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat, dating back to the beginning of 2018.

Through this memo, the company made it clear that there will be “consequences” from the bank’s legal team for employees who fail to comply.

We have seen that financial regulators across the globe have started to take more stringent views on surveillance in work from home culture.

Last year JPMorgan fired one of its senior-most credit traders and cut the bonus payments for a dozen of its other traders, for using a WhatsApp group to discuss market chatter. The recent memo could certainly be the aftermath of such events and these bankers can expect the text messages they collected to be produced before the bank.

A Jefferies Group banker also faced the wrath in the past for using WhatsApp when he had used the mobile chat app for boasting about the potential for an M&A deal to pay off his mortgage. This resulted in his resignation in 2016 followed by a penalty of $52,000 (£37,000) by the Financial Conduct Authority in 2017.

As most banks and financial firms have still not started the practice of recording their employees’ mobile IM chats, most of these requests to report mobile chats will be to take snapshots of relevant messages and sending them to compliance teams via email. The problem with such a practice is that the metadata associated with these messages will not be present. Even though messages along with their sent and received timestamps can be seen in these snapshots, it is quite hard, or even impossible at times to pin these messages to the actual sender or receiver.

While privacy has to be ensured for individuals, transparency cannot be compromised by businesses. While an individual could be prosecuted for destroying messages, the recent arrival of simple-to-use self-destructing messaging functions in popular apps has raised new concerns about legal processes. Businesses using disappearing messages affect both stakeholders and customers. However, the new feature can also be used against businesses if enough care is not taken to prevent the loss of data.

Like WhatsApp, many mobile IM applications offer the feature of deleting sent messages. WeChat (recall messages), Telegram (secret chat), and Signal (disappearing messages) already have the option of sending disappearing messages. The original idea of such a feature was to correct the mistakes of messages that were already sent. But later, the feature gained widespread popularity due to the growing concern for privacy and security.

The option of sending disappearing messages by mobile messaging applications has become problematic for law enforcement and litigation bodies. Since most of the modern mobile IM applications offer end-to-end encryption, only the sender and receiver can view the messages through these chat applications. Because compliance, legal and law enforcement departments cannot view the messages sent through mobile chat apps, regulatory compliance may be at risk for many financial institutions.

In reality, many bankers have found the disappearing messages feature as a means of sharing inside information, without leaving any trace of the messages. Hence, the only solution to the newly met roadblock will be to record employee mobile communication.

It is important to record and retain a copy of all the official conversations through popular mobile chat applications in order to be established as a trusted business that attracts investors and retains customers. To lock the authenticity of recorded information, it is pre-emptive to stall possible ways of losing data.

The new WhatsApp feature does not entirely endanger the loss of information if screenshots are taken or a copy of the messages is saved before the messages disappear. Proactive measures to ensure the integrity of recorded information are important to protect the business and grow the confidence of stakeholders in it. This is why TeleMessage has features to secure the copy of exchange of business-related information on WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, or Signal, which are the show-stealers in the current situation.

TeleMessage provides the solution for the seamless collection of text messages, multimedia, and voice messages. The archiving solutions offered by TeleMessage allow financial firms to perform actions like WhatsApp recording, WhatsApp archiving, WeChat recording, WeChat archiving, Signal recording, Signal archiving, Telegram recording, Telegram archiving.

With TeleMessage, information retrieval and retention are much easier as it does not need one to spend time and effort in manually archiving information that is shared over the mobile IM apps. With all the recording processes automated, it eases the user of the burden of ensuring zero loss of data. As chat metadata is stored along with employee email, it is easier to pin the conversations to the sender and receiver.

About TeleMessage

TeleMessage captures and retains mobile content, including mobile SMS messages, voice calls, and WeChat and WhatsApp conversations from corporate or BYOD mobile phones to ensure compliance with various data protection regulations. The messages are securely and reliably retained within TeleMessage servers or forwarded to your choice of data storage vendor.

Our mobile archiving products securely record content from mobile carriers and mobile devices for various ownership models (BYOD, CYOD, and employer-issued). With our multiple archiving solutions, you can always find the right tools or blend for your requirements:

TeleMessage offers cross-carrier and international mobile text & calls archiving for corporate and BYOD phones. Visit our website at www.telemessage.com to learn more about our mobile archiving products.


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