Apple recently released iOS16 for the iPhone. This newest release allows iPhone users running iOS16 to edit and unsend text messages sent between other iOS16 users. While this may be welcome news for those of us who make embarrassing typos or otherwise hit the send button prematurely, it opens the door for some potential legal risks and issues that can arise.
The new features are fairly straightforward. Users can edit a text message up to five times within 15 minutes of sending it. The recipient will receive a notification that a message was edited and can also see a history of how the message was edited. As for the unsending feature, users will have only two minutes to unsend a message, and the recipient will be able to see that the message was unsent (but will not be able to recover or see it once it has been unsent).
It is too early to tell how these features will impact businesses and how their employees communicate, but one can foresee a host of potential issues that could arise. First, the unsend feature could make the investigation of sexual harassment or cyberstalking more challenging. Rather than a clear history of conversations between harasser and victim that an employer or police could review, there will now be a muddled travel of messages that could make it more difficult to get to the bottom of a harassment or cyberstalking claim. The feature may also embolden harassers into sending offensive messages and then unsending them in an effort to cover their tracks.
Another concerning issue relates to certain businesses and government agencies who are required by law or regulation, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission or under a state’s public records law, to maintain records. If employees use iOS16 and unsend business-related text messages, there is a substantial open question of whether that would constitute a “deleted” communication in violation of applicable laws or regulations that require communications to be preserved for a specific period of time.
These are just a couple of potential risks that this new iOS16 feature poses to employers. It has long been considered a best practice that text messaging in the workplace be used sparingly and for only non-substantive communications such as logistics or scheduling. Employers should also start giving some thought to how they might address or regulate employees’ use of this new unsending and editing feature while conducting official company business. It would be wise to consider reinforcing or adopting policies that prohibit employees from using text messaging to conduct substantive business and to require that email be used instead.
If you have questions or would like further information, please contact PLDO Partner Brian J. Lamoureux at 401-824-5155 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Attorney Lamoureux is a member of the firm’s litigation, employment, and cybersecurity teams.
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