Slack now letting employers tap workers' private chats

The company hopes to attract more businesses with the optional feature

Tiny Speck's Slack app for workplace productivity.

Tiny Speck's Slack app for workplace productivity.

Slack, whose chat app aims to help workers get stuff done, might now have them running scared, knowing the boss could access their chats.

The company's upcoming paid Plus plan will include an optional feature called Compliance Exports, announced Monday, which will let administrators access their team's communications, encompassing public and private messages.

The tool is far-reaching, potentially including the edit history for workers' messages as well as messages workers have marked for deletion, if the supervisor so desires.

Workers today might expect that emails stored on their company's computers could be looked at later. But Slack, by virtue of it being a chat service, will undoubtedly raise privacy concerns here, especially among people who use its private messaging functions.

The feature seems at odds with the company's own branding. "Private things stay private, so just the right people see them," Slack's website says.

Slack is offering the feature to accommodate businesses that are required by law to have access to and store all employee communications, the company said in a blog post describing the feature.

Financial services and securities trading firms regulated under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority are two examples. So too are companies that, due to litigation concerns, must store all employee communications, Slack says.

The feature will be made available Jan. 1 as part of the company's new paid Plus plan, Slack says. The feature is not part of the Slack's free or Standard priced plans.

The data collection does not happen automatically. There is a several-step process for team owners to request access, which includes sending a signed letter on company letterhead to Slack stating that the company's policies allow that kind of access. Each request is reviewed by Slack for approval, the company says.

Once granted, workers on the team are notified of the data access, which includes all messages from that point forward. The feature is not retroactive.

Slack changed its terms of service to reflect the coming feature. "Content that would otherwise be considered private to you or to a limited group of people may, in some cases, be accessible by your team owner or administrator," it now reads.

Transparency around Slack's new feature sets it apart from other workplace communication tools, said Anne Toth, VP of policy and compliance strategy at the company. "I'm proud of the way we're rolling this out," she said in an interview.

Slack, which launched less than a year ago, has been growing fast. Its workplace chat service now has over 300,000 daily active users, the company says, up from 125,000 this past August.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

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