Apps For Integrated Messaging and Communications – The Big Thing for 2017 E-Discovery?

Applications, BYOD, E-Discovery, Email 0 December 12, 2016 329 Aaron Taylor

It seems I had barely digested the intriguing information about one of the newer messaging apps called Signal as I discussed in my last blog and as reported by the NYTimes, when now I see a new story about updates by Slack to their app as reported by The Technologist blog from FindLaw.  Slack is putting the pressure on other chat apps and communications tools with new methods for integrating communications, collaboration and sharing of most documents with others, and updated communications capabilities.  Their goal is basically to be the new email, or to replace email as the primary communications tool in business; and they are well on their way in doing so.  I see this as possibly the Next Big Thing…pardon the drumroll…in E-Discovery, in terms of addressing the potential legal, privacy and security concerns surrounding this app and so many others.  And there are many others – besides the aforementioned Signal, Microsoft Teams is mentioned along with the new effort by Facebook to become business-oriented, called WorkPlace, and others of lesser degree but sure to become at least mentionables soon.

Slack, and others, intend to operate as expanded chat rooms, by providing integration with and connection to cloud-based document creation suites – think Microsoft 365 here – along with a plethora of other communications apps, websites and other tools, to make their app a one-stop shop for business workers to communicate and share documents without the need for multiple tools or “outdated” communications, such as what email is seen as by many.

These apps are intended to be “closed shop” tools, as the Technologist article mentions; in other words, the information is intended to be shared in-house among company employees.  One must wonder how long that idealized scenario will last.  Email systems did not start out as private communications tools, but, through use…and mis-use…companies were forced to develop policies to at least attempt to restrict the messages, and attached documents, that employees shared to in-house or business-related audiences only. If these policies failed to prevent mis-use, they at least gave companies legal recourse for infractions.  One of the more important policies in this regard would be the right for employers to read/review employee business emails at any time…that employees had no expectation of privacy when using their company’s email system.  That loss of privacy ultimately has extended to personal email systems, when warranted through discovery actions and subpoena direction.

So, will these new apps present the same issues for E-Discovery efforts, and create a new “cat and mouse game?  Will privacy and productivity over-rule the company’s right to monitor what their employees are sharing on these apps?  And, most intriguingly, will company’s even be able to access the app’s to see what is going on?  Or, as I mentioned with the Signal app, will there be anything on the app servers to access?  The big thing (at least as demonstrated by Signal) seems to be to wipe those servers clean, or to never store actual data on them in the first place.  So are companies faced with the possibility that employees will be able to share private or sensitive communications that would never be traceable, or send actual documents with no tracks left behind, as in attachments?  And how can these questions be answered sooner, rather than later…or “too late”?  Hopefully, our companies won’t be caught in the dark; they need to understand what they can or cannot allow to be used as part of BYOD, before they decide to forbid BYOD altogether.  And employees need the same protection of knowing what correct, and incorrect, procedures are surrounding this ever-expanding capability to communicate and share quickly and easily.  No-one wants the, “What…WHAT?!” situation to hit them.  Protocol and policies need to be formulated right along with the development and implementation of these apps.  So knowledge of what’s out there, by C-level executives, IT, Legal Hold Administrators, attorneys…everyone involved in the E-Discovery and Legal Hold process needs to understand what’s on the horizon.  Preparation is always so much better than reaction for the soul.

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