Young people use disappearing messaging services to keep nudes and party pics out of more permanent records, like email or SMS. You can expect business people to do the same — only with important grown-up topics like corporate intrigue — when BlackBerry adds ephemerality and self-destructing messages to its BBM service in an update on Friday.
There are several new features in the latest BBM update, but two that deal with disappearing messages: Message Retraction and Timed Messages. Message Retraction is essentially an “unsend” feature, which allows you to take back a BBM message, most likely because it was sent erroneously or that it’s no longer accurate. Since BBM features read receipts, you can be sure that your recipient didn’t see your message before you rescinded it.
The other new feature, Timed Messages, works a lot like Snapchat. The timer allows the sender to set a time limit for the recipient to view the message, which will usually contain a photo. So the recipient can look at your, say, vacation photo, for up to 15 seconds but no longer. You can’t set a time limit for the message’s availability yet, but you can decide to retract it manually.
BlackBerry says that BBM can’t protect against taking screenshots of timed messages. Eventually, BlackBerry plans to roll these features into a paid subscription, but they will be free for the next three months.
BBM isn’t the first business-focused messaging service to have disappearing messages as a feature, but it’s already widely used by many who will appreciate the basic level of security. After all, disappearing messages do protect against your temporary thoughts and texts becoming a permanent written record. But as Snapchat’s repeated security breaches show, just because a service promises that message is gone doesn’t necessarily mean it is. In fact, BlackBerry has been accused of archiving BBM messages in the past, and almost certainly has the ability to intercept BBMs if a court orders it. Users should understand that if something’s truly sensitive, maybe it shouldn’t be sent electronically in the first place.
Personally, I can’t wait for the first SEC investigation that turns on a disappearing BBM message that’s been subpoenaed.