New Messenger App Allows You to Erase Data from Server
Control and data rarely go together in our post-NSA revelation world. But why is it so hard to control something you write or create after you send it via email or text. What if you could text your company's credit card number to a colleague and then delete the sensitive info off your phone, your colleagues', and any where else it may be lingering?
These are the types of questions Manlio Carrelli, CEO and co-founder of Wiper, has been asking long before he started the 14-person company in February. Carrelli, who is also CEO of Unison Technologies which makes a private social network for companies designed to replace email, says the free app hosts secure text, photo, and video messages and HD phone calls. All the messages are end-to-end encrypted and the sender can delete the messages and call logs from their phone, the recipients' phone, and the company's server.
Wiper, which officially launched on Monday, has received $2.5 million in funding from just one investor, Michael Choupak. Choupak previously founded corporate cloud email hosting company Intermedia, before he sold it for $128 million in 2011.
Carrelli says he wanted to make "privacy and control over your data" as "simple and easy as pressing one button." And that's exactly what Wiper does. After receiving a text from an unknown number wishing him a happy birthday last year, he responded asking who it was because he got a new phone. The well-wisher came back with: "You said the same thing last year" and sent a screenshot of Carrelli's similar text from the year before. That disturbed him and got him thinking about what kind of sensitive messages he has sent about his company, personal identification or financials that are still hanging out in someone's inbox or phone.
"This digital trash just piles up for years and years and years and years, as all the context surrounding those messages disappears," Carrelli tells Inc. "All of our socialization, personal and business, is taking place in this permanent database and we don't like it. We wanted one button to remove it all."
Although the app itself is cool, easy-to-use, and provides a useful answer to privacy seekers, Wiper has an uphill battle to lure a large audience from the many other messenger apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Line, and Telegram. Wiper is the only app so far that allows users to delete their texts off other people's devices and the company's servers, but changing users' habits is tough.
After testing out the app over the weekend, Inc. caught up with Carrelli to dig into the its security measures, the ability to delete your messages off another person's phone, and what's next for the company.
Can you tell us what happens when you press the "wipe" button while texting or using the app's phone call feature?
"Once you wipe it, it's all gone. There's records on your phone and temporary records on our server before it's wiped, like any messaging application, but once you tap that 'wipe' button it's gone from your phone, off your friend's phone, and off our server--there is zero record anywhere of the discussion, or even that a discussion occurred. That goes for text messages, photos, videos, and phone calls."
What would the NSA, or a court subpoena, find if they approached you saying they needed to search your servers?
If the NSA, or any other entity, knocked on our door we would comply with any legal requests as the law demands, but things are only discoverable to the extent that they exist. There are no records, so there is nothing left of the conversations that have been wiped because they are gone. That is an important point for our user-base.
As there are many different messaging apps out there, why should people use Wiper?
"Wiper is different from the other messengers out there because most of them don't give you any sort of control over your data. The Snapchats of the world, which make your messages disappear after you have read it, are cool and fun for certain uses cases but can be annoying if you're talking to your wife, or friends, or colleagues and trying to sort something out. I love the fact that I can have that communication and when we're done with it and don't need it anymore it can be wiped. It's less about the NSA and being paranoid, it's more about everyday communication and getting you back in control of your data. I think it's an important thing for regular folks, but also business owners who deal with sensitive stuff like personal information, salaries, negotiations, and credit card numbers. You don't need this stuff to lying around forever--unless you're subject to regulations in which case you wouldn't be using this app.
What's the security like? It's all great that the conversation is gone from the server, but if I was a hacker I'd target your app. What do you to do prevent this kind of attack?
"As a rule, we don't reveal too much about our security because it could jeopardize us and our customers. You either open source it or be quiet about it in terms of security. Since our measures are proprietary, we choose to be quiet about it. But our team has a long track record in secure messaging and what we have applied to the messages and phone calls is end-to-end encryption. We use the same protocols you'd see in online banks and technology the military would to protect their communication and prevent a hacker from intercepting the message before it gets to the recipient. There's also less surface area for people to attack--once messages are erased they're gone and there's nothing left to attack. We protect the messages in transit, we encrypt them at the end points, and the fact that they can be wiped is an added benefit."
If the app is free to download, free to use, and you don't keep data to sell, what's your revenue model?
"The first thing we focused on was to solve a great problem. Step one was to see if we could build something we love to use and find out if other people have the same problem. It seems like people do have this problem. Step two is to run through our revenue strategies, but we're not ready to reveal it yet. When you're a startup of our size the element of surprise is very important. But there are some great ways to build a business while maintaining the integrity of our mission. We think we can monetize this company with other offerings for our user base without keeping any data, recording information, or selling data. If you build a great company you have a lot more options open to you. But if you focus on those options before the business, things start to disappear."
WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com
Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.