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Is Gmail’s New Ephemeral Messaging Service a Threat to Data Retention?


Jun 22, 2018

Despite some potential problems with widespread use of Gmail’s “Confidential Mode,” the new ephemeral messaging function can be easily managed from an information governance perspective.

At first glance, the launch of Gmail’s new ephemeral messaging feature known as “Confidential Mode,” which is included in a batch of user interface updates to the service, may cause a fair amount of apprehension among e-discovery and information governance managers.

All emails sent using the confidential mode, for instance, are erased after a designated time set by the user. Until they are erased, they are stored directly on Google’s servers instead of on a proprietary company-owned server. And even if a Gmail user sends an email under confidential mode to a recipient who is using a different email client, the recipient can only access that email via a website link that still connects to Google’s servers.

Such a restricted, time-sensitive way of communication can run counter to a company’s data retention efforts, or put them in legal risk during pretrial discovery. But apprehension around the tool may be naive. After all, such technology is nothing new, and much of the risk it poses can be vastly limited by how it is used in the first place.

Andy Wilson, CEO of e-discovery company Logikcull, explained that the any risk with Gmail’s new updates is “totally dependent on how these businesses enable and police these types of features and functionality.”

Confidential model, for example, can be managed at a high level for those using the corporate Gmail applications. “It’s an IT administrative feature” for enterprises, Wilson noted. “The users themselves cannot turn it on” without first being allowed to by a manager with administrative Gmail privileges.

It is also likely that many companies will have a relatively easy time managing such ephemeral messaging functions given that many have used them in the past. “It’s not just Gmail. This technology is not new. There are plugins that have existed for years that allow you to do all the same stuff,” Wilson said.


Indeed, Michael Powell, solutions analyst at ZL Technologies, noted that such tools have been commonly used for years by large corporations, government officials and financial institutions like banks to manage sensitive or confidential information and trade secrets.

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