Text messaging is not a secure way to communicate with consumers for several reasons:
- Text messages are rarely encrypted making it easy for outsiders to access sensitive information.
- It is difficult to verify a consumer’s identity via text messaging.
- Phones are often misplaced or left accessible for others to view text messages.
- Large cell phone networks like Verizon often save text messages and text messaging details (American Civil Liberties Union, 2010).
Despite security issues, there are efforts to make text messaging more secure (American Civil Liberties Union, 2010) and many phone operating systems offer an encrypted chat messaging services if users are sending and receiving from the same text messaging application. For example, Apple’s iMessage application is encrypted if both the sender and receiver are using iMessage.
However, even if a text message is encrypted, there are ways for government and law enforcement agencies to access personal text messages.
Given the popularity of text messaging, its utility for the delivery of some services cannot be overlooked even when considering security concerns. As always, ethical guidelines apply (Barros-Bailey & Saunders 2010). Below are some tips for improving the confidentiality of text messages. These recommendations are meant to deter prying eyes rather than institutions with the technology and resources to access private text messages.
- Encourage consumers to password protect their phones — this deters others from casually picking up the phone and reading their text messages.
- Give each consumer a unique code — this allows you to verify a consumer’s identity if you are concerned that an imposter is trying to get their information. You can assign this code during your first face-to-face meeting.
- Avoid sending sensitive data via text; social security numbers or information about disability status should not be sent in a text message. Set up an appointment to exchange any information that needs to be kept confidential or send the information via an encrypted email message.
- Don’t send text messages to the wrong person – this may sound obvious, but it happens! Get in the habit of double checking text message recipients.
- Consider downloading an encrypted text messaging application if you know that you are going to be communicating with a consumer frequently via text messaging.
Enhancing Text Messaging Communication:
Like email, text messaging is a form of asynchronous communication that easily becomes overwhelming if appropriate boundaries are not established. If you are interested review the structuring an email relationship portion of this website; many of the tips we discuss there also pertain to text messaging.