Email was once the dominant form of electronic communication, but newer and more secure tools like office productivity apps or instant messaging apps are gradually replacing it. As someone who has witnessed the evolution of communication technologies, I have seen the rise and gradual decline of email as the leading communication tool.
When I started my career, fax and telex were the standard ways of sending business orders. Then Hotmail and Yahoo launched, cementing email as the preferred way of communicating. Emails brought people together, serving social communication, business letters, job applications, project updates, meeting discussion summaries, and more. However, emails had their drawbacks. They could get lost, misfiled, deleted, or hacked into.
Moreover, emails were not initially considered a legally binding form of communication, which meant that companies had to send signed documents to back up electronic correspondence. This changed, however, with the widespread use of email as many courts began to accept emails as a formal and legally binding form of communication.
Despite the legal recognition, emails remained vulnerable to hacking, corporate espionage, and spam. Spam became problematic due to the ease with which marketing companies were able to send a slew of unsolicited emails; companies and governments had to resort to closed internal networks of communication and build firewalls to protect incoming and outgoing emails against spam, viruses, and cybercrime. Massive email breaches such as Wikileaks and the like have exposed national security and corporate secrets and impacted US election campaigns (remember Hillary Clinton). Billions are lost each year due to viruses coming through email phishing, cloning, and evolving tactics to hack personal passwords. Sometimes, the risks are not even from others: Who of us has not been embarrassed by mistakenly replying all to an email with comments intended only for a few?
In recent years, work productivity apps with email-like tools have emerged as a solution to many of the problems associated with email. These apps allow for easier filing and tracking of communication, and they work within closed communities that are less vulnerable to hacking and cybercrimes. However, even these platforms are not immune to security vulnerabilities.
For example, Slack has been known to suffer from data breaches in the past. If a hacker gains access to a Slack account, they can potentially access sensitive company information. Additionally, Slack messages are not necessarily private, as they are stored on the platform’s servers and can be accessed by the company’s administrators. However, these shortfalls could soon be resolved as these companies invest in upgrading user experience, improving data hosting options and developing strategies to go directly after email providers.
WhatsApp is probably the most popular form of business communication in Saudi Arabia and Middle East markets, less so in North America and Europe. Yet, despite being a user-friendly and efficient communication tool, it has also been criticized for its security vulnerabilities. In 2019, it was revealed that hackers had used a vulnerability in WhatsApp’s video calling feature to install spyware on users’ phones. This highlighted the potential risks of relying on a single app for all communication needs.
As a result, while productivity apps and messaging apps like WhatsApp may be more efficient and secure than email in many ways, it is important to be aware of their limitations and vulnerabilities. To minimize the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches, it is advisable to use multiple communication tools and to follow best practices for cybersecurity.
One thing is for sure: Email is facing stiff competition from serious and well-funded competitors, and I would not be surprised if major email providers will soon face their Nokia or Kodak moments if they fail to evolve.
• Tarek Ayntrazi, co-founder and CEO of Y Partners, a communication technology group