A little over 2000 years ago, an Italian virtuoso named Giovanni della Porta devised an ingenious way to conceal messages — paint on the shell of a hard-boiled egg, the invisible ink would permeate through and transfer the message onto the egg’s albumen. The writing could only be seen once the egg was peeled.
Communicating without fear of malevolent espionage or eavesdropping has always been a luxury; and we have forever looked for means to fence the prying eyes looking over the parapet of your shoulder. It is fascinating to send a message understood only by its intended recipient. Sending a message which simply disappears like it was never there in the first place is even more intriguing. Stealthy communication allures us because it resembles the medium of communication used in any face-to-face conversation — the spoken word — instant, direct and not set in stone, for any purposes of citation.
In times when people’s virtual avatars thrive and information is broadcast verbatim, anything you post online; be it your opinion on the government’s methods or a benign picture of a temperate protest, can come back to haunt you. Where even our optical lenses are progressive, regressive self-appointed champions of morality scour the Web for dissent. Their mission: harass anyone who thinks differently. Of course, incidents like these surface rarely; but when they do, it riles millions of patrons of the Internet and exposes dangerous, volatile characters on the other side of the spectrum.
Digital tracks are impossible to delete, Internet vigilantism is on the rise but to add another dimension to the threat to privacy, cunning organisations are siphoning off personal data without the owner getting a whiff of it. These organisations are security agencies we know little about or the companies themselves to which we entrust more than we probably do to our partners. Going by Edward Snowden’s dramatic revelations, calling this an invasion of privacy would an understatement. Rampant snooping of a user’s data is unwarranted, heart-breaking and downright immoral. It’s disguised malice towards people who have shown faith in your product. It’s just wrong. Don’t do it!
Life always tries to find its way and it is hardly surprising then that services offering a hermetic way to confabulate are fast gaining traction. Initially dismissed as a passing fad, these clever pieces of software have caught everyone’s eye as privacy is quickly becoming a leitmotif in instant communication.
The assurance that the recipient gets only a fleeting glimpse of a message, be it an image or a text, after which it is deleted automatically, wiped from the face of the Earth, leaving no breadcrumbs for others to follow, is nothing short of liberating. Apps like Snapchat and Tigertext are paving the way for messages which disappear before you think of a reply- they are today’s invisible ink, a great way to fire fight digital snooping. You can get your message across, but the message itself is ephermal. Snapchat, famous for allegedly rejecting a $3billion acquisition offer from Facebook, relies on the premise of pictures which expire in, at most, 10 seconds. Tigertext, meanwhile, understands the mercurial corporate environment where rude emails are often fired on a whim. Featuring a simple messaging system where written text self-destructs quickly, it offers a neat vent to frayed tempers at the workplace.
Anonymity on the Internet of today is like gold dust. More so because every fragment of data you upload is tied to atleast one online service which you have pledged your troth to, but each obliges you to validate your identity even to say Hi. The fear of backlash arising out of your stray, risqué comment from a sensitive fold of society often muzzles the right to free speech of millions. This is where Secret, an app which brandishes anonymity as a metaphor for freedom, steps in. Named aptly, it’s a fabulously furtive way to convey messages without attaching ownership or unnecessary responsibility.
While every epoch springs new tools to subvert established order, it’ll be interesting to see if this new breed of messaging services which are a product of their circumstances, become truly mainstream. Will they be able to replace already established players in their segments still popularly retaining data for posterity? Maybe one day when Internet policing threatens to take over and Orwellian vigilantism looms large, a truly ephemeral social network will take shape to (rather unfortunately) erase all those prized ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ as they come.