Private, disappearing chats aren't just for teens anymore

After years of social networks, websites and search engines trying to collect every scrap of private information about us, a new wave of apps is coming to help us get our privacy back.

Best known, of course, is SnapChat, the messaging app with disappearing photos. It's reportedly raising new capital and has a $10 billion valuation. The entire segment of ephemeral, anonymous and secret communications apps is exploding, with almost $300 million of venture capital raised – and that’s before the dollars SnapChat gained in this latest round, according to CB Insights.

The apps aren’t just for selfie-trading teens. Grown-ups need privacy, too. Former AOL (AOL) executive Jon Brod is co-founder of Confide, a messaging app geared toward professionals that offers encrypted texts that disappear.

Confide is different than others in the sector with its emphasis on business use cases. Users can message anyone with a phone number or email address. Messages are encrypted from the user’s phone and don’t get decoded until they reach the recipient’s device, so there’s little chance of eavesdropping.

And the messages arrive as a series of gray bars that can’t be read until the recipient swipes their finger across the screen to make words appear  – like invisible ink – to protect against screen shots. The messages disappear after being read. And there's no photo-sharing feature.

Brod, who co-founded local news site Patch, connected with serial entrepreneur Howard Lerman to develop the app, which came out in January.

The app is designed to “foster genuine, efficient and honest conversations among professionals,” Brod says.

Confide is currently free, although an annual subscription for premium features could be added down the line. “It’s a little too early to focus on monetization,” he says. “We’re intrigued by premium service offering additional features and functionality to our power users for an annual fee, not unlike the LinkedIn (LNKD) model.”

The pair raised almost $2 million in February from investors including WGI Group, Google Ventures (GOOGL), First Round Capital and SV Angel. Yelp (YELP) CEO and co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman and Entourage creator Doug Ellin are also reportedly among the backers.

Confide is less well known than some its ephemeral app brethren. SnapChat, the category leader, has said its users send more than 700 million disappearing texts and photos and a day. Whisper, which lets users send and receive messages anonymously, said it had 3 billion monthly page views in December.

The notion of an off-the-record, encrypted business chat also raises the possibility of improper uses. Brod says insider trading or other such misdeeds are prohibited under Confide’s terms of use.

“Good people are going to use it for good,” he says. “There is the potential for bad people to use it for bad. We don’t want that, it’s not why we built it, but do we recognize that is a potential.”

Brod’s main goal is for Confide to catch on as a reliable tool for private, informal conversations at a time when phone calls and email are slipping out of favor. "We're optimized for professionals," he says.

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