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Disposable content on the rise but how disposable is it really?

Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s the hook for the latest generation of message and social media apps that promise to make your photos or messages disappear faster than you can press the ‘send’ button.

While software developers are trying to make it easier and safer to store all of your photos and information forever, at the same time, it is becoming increasingly popular to put a time limit on how long someone else can view it.

SnapChat, Cyber Dust, Wickr, Periscope and Meerkat are just some of this wave making disposable content one of the fastest growing trends online.

And depending on what you are sending – and to whom – there are ways that allow senders to remain anonymous, not have metadata or geotags recorded, use peer-to-peer encryption, and forensically wipe any trace of a sent file and who sent it.

Adam Brown, a senior lecturer in media studies at Deakin University, says this type of communication serves an important purpose and is here to stay.

SnapChat is best known as an app used by teenagers to send explicit photos to each other but this technology isn’t just for sexting. In March, it was revealed that senior Abbott government ministers, including Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, were using private messaging app Wickr to discuss the leader turmoil at the time.

Wickr allows users to send files, text and data via a secure exchange server but it is untraceable and does not store metadata. It is also anonymous and self-destructing – perfect if you, hypothetically, want to discuss whether to topple your boss.

In a 2014 report on the issue, it said disposable content creators have “upended established industries and are changing both the way content is delivered and the nature of the content itself.”

“The growth…is also pressuring content creators to produce a certain kind of content: ‘safe’ content that appeals to a wide customer base, but has little longevity.”

The rise also coincides with the Abbott government’s new laws to force telecommunication companies to store users’ metadata for at least two years for security reasons.

The backlash against the law, which was passed with bipartisan support, has further opened the path for consumers to easily access apps and websites that help users avoid their information being archived.

Dr Brown said the debates about surveillance and privacy have “no doubt contributed to a more skeptical mindset about what happens to our content”.

But just how disposable is disposable content? SnapChat has already come under fire after it was revealed that its very premise could be overridden if a screen picture is taken.

Christian Payne, an expert in computer security and cryptography at Murdoch University, says complete privacy and security can never be guaranteed.

“People can always have another camera ready and take a picture of the screen,” he said. “You can never really get around that.”

Dr Brown believes there is an increasing awareness that the notion of ‘disposable’ is not all that concrete.

“The understanding that even images that are only screened for 10 seconds may be captured in other ways and not necessarily ‘deleted’ in the first place as promised has been pretty widespread for a while, so I would imagine most people are using it fairly strategically.”

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