Many of us use Slack to communicate with our coworkers, team leads, and clients. Slack is a great platform that allows us to stay connected and updated either by sending instant messages or host video and audio calls.
Furthermore, Slack provides an opportunity for employees to bond - via open chat rooms where they can discuss everyday topics or private chats for more intimate and confidential conversations.
But, how private Slack messages are? Do we have too much trust in this app, and is it really the place for just any type of discussion? And most importantly: can my employer read my Slack messages?
How private is Slack and are Slack messages private?
Before we begin, let's make a brief overview of the type of communication you can have in Slack. First, we can make a difference between private messages (or DMs) and Slack channels. Channels can be either private or public, and the level of their privacy is set by their admin. Usually, both private and public chats could be seen by anyone within the workspace. On the other hand, direct chats aren’t visible to our coworkers and managers.
But they can read them.
Even though private messages cannot be read by your boss as you send them, they can be downloaded and exported into zip files (JSON type of files). Before 2018, employers could only download information about public channels, however, now they can download private conversations too.
Reading your messages doesn’t equal snooping for gossip.
There are many reasons why your employer would like to go through your private messages. For instance, your company might need to preserve and produce the content of your chats in case you’re a part of a lawsuit. Also, downloading private messages might be handy if a company needs to run a private investigation. The bottom line is: looks are deceiving. Even though Slack chats might seem like we have personal safe space, they’re run and monitored by your organization and you shouldn’t write anything you wouldn’t want anyone to know.
What do your messages look like in Slack when your employer sees them?
What you should know is that your employer, if you download your Slack chat, won't be able to see messages exactly how you saw them while you were sending them. Instead, the data they download will be delivered in ZIP files (JSON type of files) and the messages will be displayed in long lines that resemble codes. These code-like lines will also include data about reactions and edit history.
They can also see the messages you send to another Slack organization via the Connections view option.
This all applies to direct messages you might send to someone outside your workplace, too.
The bottom line is that Slack allows all these possibilities, but gives responsibility to the employer on how they'll use this data. Slack holds employers accountable for respecting employment agreements and laws about data management and use.
However, there are some obstacles based on the type of plan your workspace is on.
If your employer wants to see your Slack messages, there might be a few additional steps they'll need to take based on the plan your workplace is:
In case your company uses a Standard or Free plan. In case your company uses a Standard or Free plan in Slack they'll need to submit a request to export your messages from private channels. Furthermore, Slack will only approve this in three cases:
1. With employees consent
2. If it's required for legal reasons
3. If it's within the employer's right
In case your company is using a paid version. Even if your workplace is using a paid version of Slack, they'll have to submit a request to export conversation. However, once they submit the request, they can repeat the export process over and over again without additional approval. The feature, called a Corporate Export, is available only in the Plus and Enterprise Gold plan.
It’s not your boss only who can see your Slack messages.
It's not only your boss who can read your Slack messages. Law enforcement can do it too!
For instance, in case you need to sue your employer for harassment and you think there might be some proof in your Slack messages such as inappropriate messages you can ask to make those messages available to law enforcement.
Furthermore, the state might ask for your Slack's DM data in case you're involved in an offence or crime to confirm your presence or absence. For instance, these cases where the state issued a search warrant for Slack happened 38 times in 2020 in the US.
After everything that has been said, we're able to see how private Slack actually is. And even though we might feel comfortable enough to share personal details with our coworkers through Slack, we have to remember that we are, after all, at work and tune our behaviour to this. Keep the conversations in Slack lighthearted, always remembering where you are and keeping in mind the consequences you might have to put up with in case problems arise.