So here’s a story that goes from weird to bizarre in record time. A few weeks ago, Axios was among the first to report that White House staffers were using an app called “Confide” to make use of its disappearing message feature, specifically to avoid putting things down on the record, that might later be leaked or revealed:
We spoke with one influential GOP operative who is using the app. He told us he especially likes that Confide makes it harder to take a screenshot—you have to slide your fingers over text and it only captures a portion of the screen. He also likes the integration with iMessage, allowing him to write self-destructing encrypted messages within the confines of the iPhone’s standard-issue messaging platform.
He says Republicans like him are especially paranoid about their communications after Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. “For folks that are on the inside in this city, it provides some cover,” he said.
Among those found to be using the app? Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who got upset that anyone might think it was a big deal that the app was on his phone:
BuzzFeed News found the phone numbers of Spicer, along with Hope Hicks, the director of strategic communications, via a feature that allows users to see friends who have already joined.
In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Spicer confirmed that he used the app, but said that he had done so only once, when asked to by a reporter “months ago.” He offered to show a BuzzFeed News reporter his phone as proof.
“I downloaded it, but I’m glad to show anyone my phone and that I’ve literally sent one message on Confide,” said Spicer. “These are personal phones… I also have iTunes on my personal phone, Solitaire, and other apps. Frankly I think the idea that you guys are writing a story, the idea of what apps I use on my phone, is an invasion of my privacy.”
Of course, if the messages are deleted soon after sending, as the app advertises, then showing the app to a reporter doesn’t really prove much of anything. Either way, hold that thought.
Security experts have ripped apart Confide, saying that it’s claims of being secure are “a triumph of marketing over substance,” however others in the White House are making use of an app that is generally considered more secure: Signal.
And, apparently, that has some in Congress worried that the apps are being used not to undermine things like federal record keeping laws, but rather that it may be used by people inside the government to go undermine the administration or to leak information to the press.
And, indeed, this weekend it was reported that Sean Spicer (remember him from above?) conducted a surprise leak crackdown last week, ordering staffers into a conference room and then searching their phones for Confide or other apps, and telling them not to use such apps:
Upon entering Spicer’s office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as “an emergency meeting,” staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.
Spicer, who consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn before calling the meeting, was accompanied by White House lawyers in the room, according to multiple sources.
There, he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide — an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent — and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room.
Leaving aside, for now, the humor in this information (of course) then leaking to the press, it does seem somewhat amusing that Spicer is now suddenly running surprise phone checks on staff members over these apps when he, himself, admits to having used at least Confide, and his insisting that its presence on his phone was really no big deal. Remember, “Frankly I think the idea that you guys are writing a story, the idea of what apps I use on my phone, is an invasion of my privacy.” And yet… it’s not such an invasion of privacy to suddenly order lower ranked staff members into a conference room to do a “phone check” to see if they have any of those apps on their phones?