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Frankie Nicoletti
Frankie Nicoletti

Posted on • Originally published at Medium on

Several People Are Spying

Photo by on Unsplash

Welcome to Privacy Rx, a micro blog for improving your personal online privacy one small step at a time.

Slack, a popular internal communication platform, has been part of my daily life since 2015. My day job, professional networks, alumni organizations, and even events like hackathons, have Slack teams. It has greatly reduced the number of emails we have to send and made space for group discussion outside Facebook. Despite offering a free tier that serves communities such as DC Tech, Slack was built for use by companies. DMs may feel more private than work email but they aren’t.

Slack as a company has been very clear that it serves employers, not employees (or the aforementioned communities). And as the recent Away scandal demonstrates, Slack can be weaponized. (If your manager is berating you in public Slack channels my professional opinion is that you look for another job). But what we haven’t been talking about is that the admin of your Slack team can read your DMs without your consent or notification.

If you use Slack at work People Ops or HR is likely the admin. You can check the Workplace Settings of your employer’s Slack but that is for entertainment purposes only because its a setting, not a policy. It doesn’t matter whether your company currently spies on you because they could decide to do so in the future and you wouldn’t know about it. Disappearing messages is not an option on Slack and your entire history is potentially available should they chose to exercise that option.

Even if you aren’t organizing a union or having a corporate #MeToo moment you should care about your privacy on Slack. Your “private channels” can be downloaded or that person you excluded on purpose could be added later and allowed to see the entire history of the channel. I have worked at several companies where employers People Ops/HR was known to download private Slack history. You don’t have to be Edward Snowden to assume that someone is reading your messages.

You have a right to speak freely to your coworkers but you do not have the right to privacy on company-owned communications platforms. If you want to say something that you wouldn’t want read aloud at the company all hands use another method of communication. Here are several options:

  1. New Slack: Create a new Slack administered by yourself or a trusted coworker. Its a free country, after all! Do it with personal emails, prevent anyone from inviting new people except administrators, and don’t leave it open on your work station.
  2. Text Message: Android and iMessage are both available with web apps and almost everyone has a gmail account for gchat (not your work gmail, genius). Telegram and WhatsApp are also great choices with web clients.
  3. In Person: Talk in real life in a nondescript hotel with your phones in the microwave…or just go to lunch like a normal person. Some conversation is better without a written record of it and fresh air is good for you.

This week’s Privacy Rx: Confirm an alternate communication method with the folks you talk to and trust the most at work. Until next week, make good choices!

Top comments (1)

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I use Signal Private Messenger, because it was recommended by Edward Snowden, and my own paid slack.