Beware the perils of doing business by SMS or messaging apps
By Peter Moon
This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review on 3 August, 2018 and is reproduced here with permission from the author. Peter Moon is a technology lawyer with Cooper Mills who writes on Technology specialising in Enterprise IT, Gadgets, Mobile & Tablets. Based in Melbourne, Peter writes a weekly technology column.
What would you do if a million dollars depended on a text message you recall receiving two years ago?
You’re certain that your client texted you with the instructions you actioned. But it’s two years later, the client’s deal has turned to custard, the finger is being pointed at you, and that text is your only shield against a negligence claim.
Do you have a copy? Your file includes every letter, every email, every conference note and every draft of every document. But does it hold the SMS or iMessage or WhatsApp exchange that now turns out to be critical? Probably not.
Who keeps a permanent record of their texts, even on important matters? How would you even do it, if you were minded to?
It’s a given of good commercial and legal practice that important communications are recorded, but texts via today’s plethora of messaging options are falling through cracks of chasmic proportions.
If you’re in business and you do want to keep a complete record, including the SMS where you told your lawyer not to release an offer to pay $1,000,000, you may need to adopt several strategies.
Because of the diversity of messaging platforms, there’s no single, simple solution.
Regular backups of your smartphone are a start, but you’ll need to retain them for long periods. With a normal backup strategy, it’s fine to overwrite old versions after a few months.
If your handset backups are intended to serve as legal records of communications, you may need to store them for most of a decade.
Even then, all you’ll have is an ocean of data, available to be searched if the need arises. But will you remember that the key communication was delivered by Facebook Messenger?
Maybe you’ve long since left the company, and somebody else is trying to work out what happened three years prior.
Message backups might save the day in a case that justified trawling through dozens of archives, but nowhere near as surely as an orderly file, whether paper or digital, that contains everything relevant to a particular commercial interaction.
If you recognise that a particular text is important, at least take a screenshot and keep the graphic in your company file. We know lawyers who have acted on the basis of texted instructions, without so much as a snapshot of the message to record them.
Choose your platform
Better still, consider using a messaging platform to allow easy exporting of conversations. For instance, WhatsApp offers a neat export to email feature. Just open the individual or group chat of interest, tap the menu button, tap “more” and select “email chat”.
The app then creates an email including the entire conversation up to 40,000 messages. If you’ve done a deal, or been involved in a commercial discussion, or interacted with a client using messaging in whole or part, why wouldn’t your record include all those communications?
Mac users can look to PhoneView from ecamm to export SMS, iMessage and WhatsApp conversations to PDF files, ideal for archiving with other transaction records like emails.
As a bonus, it can also extract and save iPhone voicemails and create a log of all calls to and from a handset. At $US30, PhoneView is a bargain if it supports the messaging platform you use.
No Facebook Messenger solution
The lesson: before you allow any messaging platform to be used as a channel for doing business, understand whether it can generate a record of what’s been communicated, and how easily it can do it.
If it’s not possible, or not practicable, don’t trust dollars or your reputation or your insurance cover to that comms channel.
Search solutions for the problem of documenting e-messages and you’ll see there’s a multitude on offer.
But it includes dozens that can’t target specific messages or conversations, dozens more that involve a mind boggling “six easy steps,” and more still that haven’t been updated in years.
Whether or not it knows it, business is in desperate need of a long-term, bulletproof standard for documenting short messages.
Bad Staffelstein, 2018
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