Can Your Boss Read Your Slack Messages?

Handwriting text writing Chat History. Conceptual photo archive of transcripts from online chat and instant messaging Woman wear formal work suit presenting presentation using smart device

Slack is a popular communication platform used by many remote workers. It’s a great platform to communicate and collaborate through instant messaging and video conferencing, which many remote teams enjoy as a new mode of communication. With the choice of public “channels” and private messaging, people have the freedom to speak publicly or work one-on-one with their coworkers easily. Some argue that Slack is more of a distraction than a tool conducive to one’s productivity due to the fact that people may use it to idly chat all day; however, many employers still utilize this system to collaborate with their workers.

If you use Slack to direct message many of your coworkers daily, you may wonder how private your messages really are. Can someone read your private channels? Will your supervisors read your direct messages? Can someone access your data? Let’s find out.

How Private are Your Messages?

Conversing in Slack

Before understanding your privacy, you must understand what types of messages are in the Slack platform. There are two chat options in Slack: Channels and Direct Messages.

Channels are typically shared among many group members, such as a marketing or sales team. The channel gives these members easy access to speak with one another, share documents, and more. As a rule, channels can either be set up as private or public; however, it’s up to the channel creator to decide its security settings. Channels are public by default, but members tend to set their channels to private if they’re better suited for a smaller audience or in cases where other workers don’t need to see their conversations. Overall, private and public channels are typically seen by anyone, including your boss.

Direct messages (also known as “DMs”) are private messages among members. Other members in your organization will not be able to see your direct messages to coworkers. Your boss cannot easily access your private messages and isn’t reading your messages in real time.

Reading Your Private Messages

Can your boss read your Slack direct messages? In brief, yes, but they can’t actively read your messages as you send them. Slack allows employers to download and export Slack conversations, whether they’re public or private, into zip files. Of course, they must comply with the law before downloading any private data from their employees.

To summarize, before 2018 employers used to solely have the ability to download information from public/shared channels. However, to adhere to GDPR rules, they now allow all business owners to export private conversations. Ultimately, your boss can obtain your private messages, but they’ll need to go through a process to get this data.  

Obtaining Slack Conversations

Slack gives employers the option to export their data based on the plan they purchase. Here are the data export options:

FreeStandardPlusEnterprise Grid
Export data (messages and links to files)
from public channels in your workspace
Data from public channels, private
channels, and direct messages (DMs)
Schedule recurring exportsX
Export data from all conversations a
single user has been a part of

Although employers can export their data, they still have to comply with the law. Slack specifically states that in order to export, you must comply with “Employment, privacy, and other laws, as well as corporate policies, limit the use of these exports. Laws and policies may also require employers to notify employees of their use of export tools”. Here are a few cases where a Slack customer may export content:

  • Harassment reports
  • Secret trades requiring a workplace investigation
  • Archiving financial service communications
  • Court-ordered mandates

Exporting Slack Message Data Correctly

Employers who’ve purchased the Plus or Enterprise Grid plans are allowed to export their data directly from their accounts. They may download messages from private channels, public channels, and private direct messages. Employers can do this as long as each Workspace Owner has implemented appropriate employment agreements and corporate policies. They also must ensure that the exports are permitted under applicable law. If this isn’t done correctly and they export data without employee consent, they may face legal penalties.

Employers who have purchased the standard plan or who use the free plan must contact slack directly for any data export. Unlike those in the Plus or Enterprise Grid plans, they can’t directly download their data from their accounts. They must submit an application to Slack to export all content from channels, conversations, and private conversations. In this case, Workspace Owners must show:

  • A Valid legal process
  • Consent from members
  • The requirement of data export from a legal authority

If an employer does not provide the correct information, Slack will deny their request. 

How to See Your Slack Message Plan

If you’re curious to see your company’s Slack plan, you can check your status right from your account. When logged into your slack app, select your company’s icon on the left-hand corner, select Administration, and click on Customize your company name. Next, select About This Workplace and click on Retention and Exports. At the bottom of the page, you’ll be able to see what type of information your employer can export from your account. 

Don’t Be Nervous

Overall, it’s likely that employers aren’t exporting your data on a daily basis. Even with the ability to download and export your data into a large zip file, they’re not doing it unless they have legal protocols in place. If you’re curious, take a look at your company’s privacy policy about downloading your public and private messages. They should outline exactly how and why they need your data and when they plan to obtain that data. From there, you can ease your mind regarding who is reading your messages and when.

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