Tucker Carlson Tonight was the most popular primetime news show in the US from April 2020 until the shows sudden cancelation on April 24, 2023. Carlson was suddenly fired due in large part to text messages that were likely to come out if the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit were to go to trial, causing the Fox board to pay nearly $800M to settle the case. They were leaked anyway.

His messages were unacceptable, and I would have fired him for them without thinking twice. At the same time, it made me think about how I would feel about having every message, email, or photo I have ever sent scrutinized by a team of lawyers intent on destroying me and then leaked on the internet. That would not be fun.

I have made good progress moving most of my friends and family over to the encrypted messenger app, Signal. While I personally would prefer not to have my account tied to a phone number, I am willing to compromise for the ease with which normal people can sign up.1

Signal is end-to-end encrypted, which will stop meddling intermediaries from spying on the content of your messages, including the people behind Signal and likely the government itself. That is great, and it is the primary reason I use the app. No one should be able to read my messages except the intended recipient.

That is all well and good, but if the government shows up with a search warrant or subpoena for that content of your phone, you are likely screwed. While you may be able to technically keep the government out via full-disk encryption, the real-world penalties for doing so will likely be painful. This is where disappearing messages come in. Judges and others are aware of the potential of these features to hide potentially damaging evidence. The judge in the Sam Bankman-Fried case, for example, ordered SBF to stop using Signal because of its ability to auto-delete messages.

With Signal, you can set a time limit for messages, after which, they will be deleted from the device of all parties. As the helpdesk article warns, this is not intended for protection against the recipient of the message, but for people coming along later and looking through the phone. This would have likely prevented those messages from being read in court years later (unless the other party screenshots them).

My wife and I have used Signal for years now for all of our digital communication. We also auto-delete our messages. Not once have I regretted auto-deleting. I save any fun or relevant info in my notes and download any photos I want to keep. Everything else goes away. I do the same for other chats with friends and co-workers.

Now is your chance to take stock of your digital life and the footprint you leave behind. Think twice before sending a message, even over Signal. You will likely not be able to predict when you will be sued, investigated, or otherwise thrown into the lime-light.

  1. While I like Signal, especially when communicating with normal, non-techie folks, there is plenty of game in town. See the Privacy Guides list of private and secure messenger software. I personally like Simplex for communication with strangers, as I would rather not hand out a phone number. Reach out to me via the link in my signature to try it out! ↩︎