Washington, DC-based startup Uppidy offers users the ability to not only save and store their phone’s text messages, making them portable beyond any specific hardware device or even mobile OS platform. It’s a proposition that’s clearly been appealing for users, since the company has backed up nearly 10 million messages for users already. Now, the company is moving into a different area, and one that users might have a harder time seeing the upside of, as it begins offering its services to enterprise customers to help companies keep tabs on the SMS habits of employees using phones bought and paid for by their employers.
The concept of a business being able to watch what its employees do in their communications on company devices during company time isn’t a new one, and Uppidy CEO Joshua Konowe said in an interview that company smartphones really shouldn’t be any different from company email addresses, especially in sensitive industries. But that doesn’t mean the idea of an employer being able to download and maintain a searchable archive of all of an employee’s text-based communications, both incoming and outgoing, as well as receive alerts when certain keywords appear, will sit well with everyone on a corporate plan.
“We’re basically emulating what’s already been done with email or a number of other systems for a decade or two, but now giving some insight into a mobile world,” Konowe said. “If it’s a corporate-sponsored device where the company is paying for it, then I think employees are smart enough for the most part to know not to [abuse those privileges].”
And for businesses, the advantages could be enormous, since companies could have the chance to cut off public scandals before they happen, by being notified when an employee steps out of line and does something that might be against SEC or FINRA regulations, for example, via text message. Konowe believes that avoiding a costly PR nightmare will be invaluable for enterprise customers, especially those in particularly sensitive industries.
Selling to enterprise wasn’t even an area Konowe initially thought about getting into. But after some recent coverage in the Wall Street Journal about Uppidy, businesses came calling and he recognized the opportunity.
Konowe said that the company will still be focusing on the consumer market, and plans to introduce premium features on a subscription basis to help monetize that channel, as well as introduce ads to its mobile apps as another revenue opportunity. But having enterprise customers come calling is good for Uppidy’s business model, and should provide them with a strong supplement to the consumer side of the business, and even a potential pivot opportunity should Konowe’s other monetization plans fall flat with end users (the tool is free for consumers).
Uppidy, while cross-platform (its software is available for use with Android, BlackBerry and iOS devices), is still limited by the fact that Apple doesn’t allow direct access to incoming and outgoing SMS to third-party developers. As a result, iPhones need to be synced to iTunes on the desktop in order for the software to find and archive text and iMessage communications. That’s a limitation of Apple’s platform in general, however, and Konowe also notes that BlackBerry phones are still far more popular in high-security situations where Uppidy might be most valuable to business.
In short, the opportunity is big for Konowe, but becoming an enterprise-facing watchdog service as well as a consumer-facing storage, transfer and archiving tool might raise a few eyebrows among privacy advocates. Still, businesses that need it will likely want it regardless of any negative perception, since the risk reduction it represents a significant advantage.