New app claims to help erase your sexts, racy videos

Can a sext-deleting app save us from ourselves?

Feb 29, 2020, 2:29 pm*

IRL

Catherine Scott 

Catherine Scott

Most of us have wished at some point that we could unsend a drunken text or a smutty video. Now, a new messaging app called SessMe promises it can do just that.

SessMe, which launched Oct. 21, allows users to delete any type of message—text, images, audio and videos—from the entire network, even if it has been forwarded to other users. It also prevents recipients from screenshotting or downloading images unless the sender gives permission. Users can send just a “sneak peek” of their image which dissolves after a few seconds, or a “masked” image if they are not sure you can trust the recipient. Sensitive conversations also can be encrypted and password-protected.

A NSFW video explains how the app works, using the example of a woman who photographs herself having sex with a guy only to have the forward forwarded all around town: 

SessMe is not shy about encouraging users to send racy content: A press release for the app reads, “Free Your Inner Ho-Ho-Hoe With SessMe!” and asks “Want to go crazy this New Year’s Eve?” However, Carrie Goldberg, attorney who works with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, said we should all still use caution while freeing our inner ho-ho-hoes. She told the Daily Dot in an email:

Any time there’s a new app like [SessMe], a cottage industry springs up offering an app-antidote to the privacy measures. Such ancillary apps are designed to circumvent the screenshot notification and other privacy features. Additionally, third party devices can always be used to capture an image. So SessMe does not solve the revenge porn problem.

For one thing, SessMe’s no-screenshot option also doesn’t work on iOS devices like the iPhone. Furthermore, as Goldberg points out, if an image originates not from SessMe but a different platform such as Facebook or text, SessMe can then be used to distribute it non-consensually to groups of up to 100. A victim would not have any power to retract the image.

SessMe’s Terms of Use do not contain any specific policy banning revenge porn, a significant omission given that the app seems designed for sexting. SessMe’s FAQs are also somewhat confusing, stating that “when you delete an object permanently, the object is completely removed from any application screens” but that “images, video and audio are stored for 7 days…in the application’s servers.” So how can you be sure that when something’s gone, it’s really gone?

Apps like SessMe need to be clear about exactly what their apps can and cannot do, Goldberg continued: 

Because there is no doubt that kids will be early adapters, a product like SessMe is proceeding negligently if they do not establish abundant precautions against underage misuse. Those precautions begin with the app being completely transparent about the limits of its functionality.

Indeed, other apps have fallen foul of this principle. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission charged Snapchat’s creators with overstating the app’s ability to control when a message disappears. The FTC’s report found that despite the claim that an image cannot be viewed after the expire time set by the sender, “several methods exist by which a recipient can use tools outside of the application to save both photo and video messages.”

Additionally, SessMe is not the first app that claims to empower the user with the ability to erase their digital trail. In September 2014, Raketu debuted the “world’s most secure messaging app,” RakEM, and as early as 2010, TigerText was offering an app advertised in spy thriller lingo, touting its “self-destruct function.” However, the potent combination of human malevolence twinned with advancing technology has shown us that no app can claim to protect us against every possible violation of our privacy.

SessMe admit some limitations on their FAQs page where they note that there can still be ‘an invasion of the user’s privacy’ and they advise users to think first before sending pictures in the first place: 

“Every user is recommended to consider [sic] before sending a message because it is possible in a theoretical scenario that the protections that the app offers will be breached and as a consequence there will be an invasion of the user’s privacy.”

Goldberg took a different tack, pointing out that it is the recipients, not the senders, who need to exercise better judgment. Tech companies, too, need to shoulder more responsibility for revenge porn, Goldberg said:

While it is great for tech products to incorporate user controls against abuse into their products as SessMe has done, it is even more critical that tech companies convey a ‘no tolerance’ policy about their product being misused. The onus can not only be on the victim. The emphasis in our society needs to be placed on recipients of images not sharing them without consent. 

Illustration via Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Dec 16, 2015, 3:58 pm