Mission Impossible: Self-Destructing Digital Messages Still Fictional
In "Mission: Impossible," messages would self-destruct five seconds after being viewed. But, in real life, any application that claims to do the same should be met with hearty laughter and a salt shaker full of skepticism.
According to a report from a local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles, the Snapchat mobile app has shared more than one billion "snaps" globally. These are text and picture messages, sent between friends via smartphone, that supposedly disappear from the sticky tendrils of the World Wide Web without a trace. However, I highly doubt any application can completely wipe a message from existence once it hits the internet, which means that your digital reputation grows, for better or worse, every time you share.
For many years now, we have been gently trained to share all of our juicy personal information without taking much time to consider the risks. And at the very heart of it, technology isn't the solution to our exposure problems – we are. The choices that we humans make every day about what to share and what not to share accumulate in large quantities over relatively short periods of time.
It's like depositing digital currency (identity, blog posts, social media updates, photos, videos) in someone else's account (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google, etc.).
While there are certainly applications available today that purport to erase messages for good, none are 100-percent reliable. The instant you post anything online it's immediately copied, forwarded, screenshot and backed up. You are too late, as the chances of eliminating it are about as good as negotiating friendly terms with Iran.
Solution: if you are sending a message or picture that you absolutely wouldn't want anyone else to see besides the intended recipient, the internet is probably not the right method for sharing it with that individual. Digital DNA lasts forever. Billions of people go online every day. If just one of them manages to get ahold of something you post or send to a friend, all bets are off. You now no longer have control over that content.
As an alternative, consider sending an encrypted PDF file that can only be accessed by an end user with the appropriate code. Or get old fashioned and send a FAX, which minimizes exposure on the Web. If you can, call the person to deliver the sensitive information. In other words, if it's private, limit its exposure to the Web.
If you don't stop to think about and act upon how much of your life you're sharing with the internet community, maintaining the security of your digital reputation is truly an impossible mission.
There is no surefire way to control every single bit of information you send via smartphone or post online, and any application or service provider that tells you otherwise likely knows better, but is hoping that you won't.
John Sileo is a digital reputation expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.