In the last year, many people have reached the conclusion that privacy in our digital lives might, you know, be important. Ephemeral apps like Snapchat have sprung up in the wake, but they're not usually too ambitious. Now a new app launching on iOS next week called DSTRUX aims to give users complete control over every file they share from their iPhone.
"The Internet is written in ink" is a line I’ve frequently heard my friends tell their young children as a warning that careless, spur-of-the-moment digital sharing can come back to haunt them long after they’ve forgotten about it. Indeed I know any parent I’ve heard use this line is speaking from experience. That’s why it’s easy to see why apps like Snapchat (and others such as Glimpse) have such wide appeal: These simple apps give us control over a small part of our digital footprint by turning the Internet’s digital ink into pencil.
Yet many of us need to share more than just photos. We have spreadsheets full of sensitive financial information, documents of medical data, or top secret NDAs that are easy to share with just a click. But once we do decide to share our files and send them out into the ether of the Internet, there’s no way for us to control what the recipient does with them or—thanks to the Snowden revelations—know who has intercepted them along the way.
That’s something that didn’t sit well with Nathan Hecht, founder and CEO of DSTRUX, a startup that’s launching an app this week which aims to give users total control over virtually every file they share from their iPhone. "It is our inherent right of privacy to protect the things that belong to us," he says. "[That’s why] I came up with the idea for DSTRUX about a year ago, but the initial motivation came from recognizing over the years how everything shared through the web was essentially permanent. I felt that there was a compelling proposition and saw an opportunity to give people the option to control their information; controlling who sees it and for how long."
DSTRUX actually launched earlier this year as a cloud-based web-only service, but Hecht and his team knew that a mobile solution was a priority as our smartphones are the devices we use a majority of the time and their convenience means we are more willing to share files with a tap of a button without fully thinking through the consequences of what would happen if that file ended up in the wrong hands.
"If you lose control of the information you’ve shared online then you have to be willing to risk the consequences," says Hecht. "We constantly upload to various forms of social media and not all of your information and images are things you want certain people to see—yet we’ve been readily relinquishing control for years. These consequences can range anywhere between government interference to someone using your privately shared, online information in a way that you didn’t intend for it to be shared."
After using DSTRUX for only a few days I wish it was something embedded directly into iOS itself. With the app users can access virtually any file—supported files types are jpg, png, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, psd, ai, svg, pdf, jpeg, eps, bmp, gif, xls and xlsx—stored in their Dropbox or any photo in their iOS camera roll via DSTRUX’s built-in browser (Google Drive integration is coming soon). Once the user selects a file to share they’re asked to set a self-destruct timer for it. This can be anything from a matter of seconds to days. The user then selects a recipient from their contacts, enters an optional message and sends the file on its way. The recipient doesn’t need to be using DSTRUX to view the file. They’ll receive a link and can view the document in the time allotted on any device they own. However, even when viewing the file in the time allotted the recipient cannot alter, copy, download, screen capture, or print it—and, if the sender chooses, he can self-destruct the file at will should he decided he no longer wants the person he sent it to to have access to it.
Though comparisons to Snapchat are obvious, the beauty of DSTRUX lies in more than the simple fact that it handles all kinds of file types. If a recipient tries to forward the document DSTRUX will notify the sender and ask for permission before it’s sent. The app also applies proprietary end-to-end encryption for every file sent and the file never resides unencrypted on the company’s servers.
"I cannot divulge too much detail here, but our team is comprised of programmers highly experienced in encryption and security that are applying methods normally used in military and intelligence to a consumer app," says Lior Giller, DSTRUX’s senior architect and a former officer of technology operations in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Unit, when I ask about the encryption technology they’ve built. However, she does reveal that "about 80% [of the encryption tech] is handled on the back end and about 20% is handled on the front end through unique methods of implementing security on iOS." The company also notes that the moment the file’s self-destruct timer runs out the file is securely deleted—i.e., not only erased, but written over with 1’s and 0s—from DSTRUX’s servers.
This level of encryption, granular control, and destruction is clearly something that has wide appeal to enterprise, yet Hecht stresses the app isn’t just for business people or high-level executives looking to send private documents. "It is for everyone," he says, "from the ordinary person wanting to gain more control in their life to those who want to share personal information without the risk of it ending up all over the Internet."
Indeed, the broad-based appeal is obvious through the social integration built into DSTRUX. Not only can users send files to those in their Contacts app, but DSTRUX integrates with Facebook and allows them to send links directly through Facebook Messenger, and soon the company will be adding support for WhatsApp as well.
It has been said that the world of social media we live in will bring about a self-induced end of privacy, and from what we know about what corporations like Facebook and Google collect about us—not to mention what the NSA has the capability to collect—it seems like that end of privacy is indeed nigh.
But Hecht doesn’t agree.
"I think that there can be and that there should be [privacy]," he says. "The potential for privacy is definitely there, but we need to make people more aware of how important it actually is." Instead of destroying it, Hecht believes social media has only temporarily changed how we viewed privacy. "We forgot about it for a few years and it’s time to remind everyone of the need for it."
"I honestly believe that DSTRUX is the future of communication on the web," he says. "More and more people will become aware that all of their information is owned by big corporations and that they are vulnerable to these corporations. Once they realize this, they will be motivated to have more control. At least that is what we are hoping will happen. When people realize how much big corporations control our lives in this aspect, they will start to feel uncomfortable and lean toward maintaining better privacy. We think this is the future."