There’s never been a better time to be in the regret-elimination business. Everyone can think of something they shouldn’t have said on social media, and now, with growing concern about how data is collected and stored, a new app is trying to help Internet users across the world communicate in private.
Meet Dstrux. It’s a New York-based messaging startup that’s trying to become the preferred tool of secret communication between business leaders and global citizens nervous about what advertisers and their governments know about them. Dstrux allows users to give their messages and social media posts an expiration time, but it has three features that other ephemeral-messaging apps do not: It prevents users from taking screenshots, doesn’t allow them to print anything, and makes it impossible to save messages to their computer or cloud service.
Dstrux has been adding thousands of users a day in the Middle East (including Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan) and is preparing to launch a translation into Russian. That’s not to mention the German version, unveiled last week, with founder and chief executive Nathan Hecht portraying Dstrux as a perfect solution for a population so concerned about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance that a number of Edward Snowden’s allies have taken up residence in Berlin.
“It’s more about control than anonymity,” Hecht said. “The idea came from my own life. I was sharing all this stuff on social media and wished I could take it back, but I couldn’t retrieve it and it suddenly became very obvious to me that all this data doesn’t need to be out there.”
Rather than posting a picture, video or sensitive work spreadsheet directly to Facebook or Twitter, for instance, a user can use Dstrux (downloaded for free) to produce a public link that's set to expire within a few minutes, never, or delete on command. Dstrux doesn’t geolocate its users or know their IP address, and transmitted information goes through a military shredding process that eliminates any chance it will be brought back, Hecht said.
“It’s the exact opposite of Facebook and Google, which have essentially built a business on everything that’s yours,” he added. There’s no charge to download and use Dstrux. Hecht said the company eventually plans to launch premium, paid services, but he declined to provide details.
It’s probably not a coincidence that as Facebook and Google have morphed into Internet gatekeepers, Dstrux is still finding its footing in the U.S. Hecht refused to disclose numbers but said Dstrux is “very happy” with its “very active user base.” U.S. growth, he predicts, will speed up when Americans start to realize how much of their personal information isn’t actually that personal.
That’s despite the fact that the company conducted a voluntary customer survey which found that 80 percent of Dstrux’s users use it to casually share messages on social media (if a cursory Twitter search is any indication, then the app is perfectly suited for looking at porn in the Middle East). The other 20 percent use it for business purposes, including a photographer who shows off previews of his work without a watermark and doctors sharing patient information.
“Right now, in North America, it feels like a niche,” Hecht said. “Five years from now, I think that’s an entirely different story; this will be mainstream. Maybe this is an example of where America will follow the rest of the world.”
But the difficulty of appealing to apathetic Americans is nothing compared to trying to break through the Great Firewall. China, with its censorship apparatus and deep ties between state and business, has stymied months of Dstrux’s attempts to get listed on popular app stores. The biggest hurdle has been Baidu, the “Chinese Google,” that’s tried to extract more information about Dstrux, everything from information about its founders to its mission statement.
“They never got enough information on us. No matter what data we gave them, they always came back for more,” Hecht said. “At a certain point I got the hint they don’t want to give the Chinese people a tool for this -- but I’m not giving up.”