Why Is Slack Retaining Everyone’s Chat History?

The associate director of research at the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a new warning in the Opinion section of the New York Times this week, calling Slack the only unicorn going public this year “that has admitted it is at risk for nation-state attacks” and saying there’s a simple way to minimize risk — that Slack has so far refused to take:

Right now, Slack stores everything you do on its platform by default — your username and password, every message you’ve sent, every lunch you’ve planned and every confidential decision you’ve made. That data is not end-to-end encrypted, which means Slack can read it, law enforcement can request it, and hackers — including the nation-state actors highlighted in Slack’s S-1 — can break in and steal it…

Slack’s paying enterprise customers do have a way to mitigate their security risk — they can change their settings to set shorter retention periods and automatically delete old messages — but it’s not just big companies that are at risk… Free customer accounts don’t allow for any changes to data retention. Instead, Slack retains all of your messages but makes only the most recent 10,000 visible to you. Everything beyond that 10,000-message limit remains on Slack’s servers. So while those messages might seem out of sight and out of mind, they are all still indefinitely available to Slack, law enforcement and third-party hackers…

Slack should give everyone the same privacy protections available to its paying enterprise customers and let all of its users decide for themselves which messages they want to keep and which messages they want to delete. It’s undeniably Slack’s prerogative to charge for a more advanced product, but making users pay for basic privacy and security protections is the wrong call. It’s time for Slack to step up, minimize the amount of sensitive data hanging around on its servers and give all its users retention controls.

The article notes that Slack’s stock filings acknowledge that it faces threats from “sophisticated organized crime, nation-state, and nation-state supported actors.”

The filings even specifically add that Slack’s security measures “may not be sufficient to protect Slack and our internal systems and networks against certain attacks,” and that completely eliminating the threat of a nation-state attack would be “virtually impossible.”

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