To find evidence of wrongdoing in high finance, it has been the age of email.
Just last week, prosecutors held former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre’s feet to the fire for writing in an email that he had sold toxic mortgage bonds “to widows and orphans that I met at the airport.”
For Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, emails with trade ideas citing “my guy at the company” have been used to allege a widespread insider trading network.
(Additionally, the Securities & Exchange Commission has taken administrative action against Cohen for allegedly praising a trader for a call made on inside information: “Nice job on Dell,” the email said.)
But regulators’ interest will soon expand beyond email.
“Technology is a big deal, and insider trading is a crime of communication,” Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District, said at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference. “To the extent people can figure out ways to communicate by IM or Snapchat … law enforcement needs to think about that.”
Yes, Snapchat—the self-destructing messaging app introduced not even two years ago by a pair of Stanford undergrads. Since then, the app has become immensely popular with teenagers and college students—recently clocking in 200 million “snaps” sent each day, according to one investor.
It’s now growing a large fan base on Wall Street, according to New York Magazine.
“In an industry where a stray Facebook photo of a drunken escapade can get a junior banker fired on the spot, Snapchat’s disappearing photos have made it a useful tool for Wall Street’s party crowd,” wrote NY Magazine‘s Kevin Roose.
The fear: Faith in its self-destructing technology will lead to sharing of more illicit—and potential illegal—content, according to Rich Hickman, a Utah-based digital forensics expert.
“I could see Snapchat being one of the main avenues for insider trading, especially among young traders on Wall Street,” Hickman said in a phone interview with CNBC.
His firm, Decipher Forensics, recovers data on drives and devices for law enforcement officials, and Snapchats are easily retrieved, he said.
“It’s very common for young people—or anyone, really—to think when it actually does delete, that it’s gone,” Hickman said.
Snapchat officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
Wall Street’s younger players are beginning to think that the content may not be entirely safe. One analyst at a private equity firm said, “You can screenshot photos, too.”
For that reason, the “summer of Snapchat” has remained largely harmless.
“Everyone uses Snapchat, but for stupid stuff mainly,” said an analyst at a hedge fund, citing a handful of videos he had received from friends in New York’s Hamptons summer towns. “I’ve never heard of anyone using it for anything more serious.”
—Follow Kayla Tausche on Twitter: @KaylaTausche.