App for business users lets you share sensitive documents -- then they disappear

Confide's technology is screenshot-proof and uses end-to-end encryption.

Confide 3.0

Confide 3.0

Sharing secrets is nothing new in the business world, but a young startup is hoping to change how professionals do it.

Emails and most other digital communications have a nasty habit of lingering, as the Sony hacks recently proved, leaving little besides face-to-face conversations as an untraceable alternative. Confide, however, has created a Snapchat-style app for the enterprise world, and the technology just got a key update.

The latest version of the company's namesake app, released on Wednesday for Android and iOS, lets users share sensitive documents and photos using a patent-pending and screen shot-proof process including end-to-end encryption. Once the item has been viewed, it disappears forever.

"The minute you hit send, the message gets encrypted -- not even we could read it," said Jon Brod, Confide cofounder and president.

In order to view a message, the recipient must have a unique key residing in their phone that's obtained by downloading Confide. (If they're not already users of the free app, they'll be prompted to download it.) Once that key is present, the message gets decrypted.

But that's not the only privacy-ensuring mechanism. The message's content also appears covered or blurred until the recipient waves their finger down the screen in a "wand" motion, causing the app to unveil a sliver of content at a time, Brod said.

If the viewer of the message tries to take a screen shot, at most a single sliver of the content can be captured. Just making that attempt gets the viewer kicked out of the message, and an alert is sent to both parties notifying them that a screen shot was attempted.

"Screen shots are the enemy of the ephemeral," Brod said.

The Confide app was first launched about a year ago, but it wasn't until this 3.0 update that it added the ability to share photos and documents, which can be attached from Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive and other document-storage services. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF formats are all supported.

Confide is currently free, but a premium version with additional enterprise-oriented features is on the way, Brod said, including support for corporate address books and distribution lists. Pricing is not yet set, but will be on a per-user, per-month basis.

"Hundreds and hundreds" of people have already signed up to participate in the premium version's invitation-only beta, Brod said, representing 14 different countries and 25 industry categories.

The existing version of the app is now used in more than 130 countries and localized in 17 languages; half its usage is international.

"This is truly a need, not just with respect to countries and territories but industries," he said. "The effects of the Sony hacks are such that there are executives in boardrooms around the world rethinking their digital communication strategies."

A desktop version is also on the way later this year, Brod added.

Of course, it must be noted that Snapchat was hacked, despite its apparently privacy-preserving focus. Whether fears of a similar attack on Confide's technology cause professionals to hesitate remains to be seen.

There's also the possibility that users not already familiar with Snapchat-style technology, which tends to be embraced by teens and young adults, will be less inclined to adopt it in their professional lives, said IDC analyst Amy Konary.

Still, "it could fill a need," she said, "particularly in heavily regulated industries."

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