Virtru Security Insights

Another Email Disaster: Snapchat CEO should’ve used Virtru

Have you read the news about Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel’s leaked emails? If you have, you’ll understand that this Virtru blog post almost writes itself.

Virtru doesn’t, for even a millisecond, condone the offensive things that Spiegel wrote, but we do think that this story illustrates the inescapable fact that email privacy is broken by default: we all learn about email the hard way. All of us have had the experience of having an email inadvertently forwarded. All of us have sent emails we later regret.

If the then 18 year-old Spiegel had been able to use Virtru, he could have placed an expiration date on these emails.  The now 23-year old Spiegel could have decided to just revoke all the messages he sent for that entire year. Messages secured with Virtru can always be revoked and recalled without fanfare – you flip a switch and access is revoked.

To all future CEOs, we have the following advice: drink a bit less, treat everyone with respect, and start using Virtru.  Consider Virtru an insurance policy on your future employability.

Long story short:  Emails that Snapchat’s CEO wrote in college are coming back to haunt him. We’ll stay classy and only link to the LA Times story, but if you do care to read the original emails linked to in the article they are both offensive and embarrassing. You have been warned.

And, Yes. It’s all very ironic. He’s the CEO of a company devoted to ephemeral messaging. Every reporter covering this story felt compelled to make the case that Snapchat’s CEO would have benefited from using Snapchat to send these messages. We disagree. He wouldn’t have benefitted from Snapchat because it would have been impractical.

First, the obvious, he couldn’t have sent those messages with Snapchat. It was 2009.

But, even if Snapchat were available, he wouldn’t have sent these messages with Snapchat.  He was sending email to a mailing list.  If he wanted to send a message via Snapchat he would have had to ask everyone on that list to install Snapchat.

How impractical would that be? Very. Snapchat, Wickr, and apps like WhatsApp are useful for small groups of friends, but you are never going to convince a group of 30-40 people to all stop and install an app.  It just isn’t practical when you have a large group of recipients. I’ve seen this in action, when you ask an email list of 40 people to go install WhatsApp, maybe 25 comply and the rest just get annoyed that they have to install an application to participate in a conversation. The response is often, “can you just send me an email?”

Snapchat would have also been impractical because some of Speigel’s more offensive messages from 2009 are faux dialogues of drunken excess that take more than 10 seconds to read. Snapchat doesn’t really offer the ability to send anything more than chat messages and simple messages which can only be read for 10 seconds. Snapchat isn’t a practical medium for communicating anything more than a few characters with a larger group.

What’s practical is email. Everyone has an email address.

If you are going to coordinate with a group of people you send an email. In retrospect, what Spiegel needed wasn’t an extra application that provides Snapchat’s style of ephemerality. Spiegel needed something like Virtru – an email system that has control of messages built-in. Let’s forget that these emails were odious for the moment. We’re not defending the content of Spiegel’s emails. Instead let’s focus on the idea that people often send emails to groups of people that are not meant to live forever.