Slack moved quickly this week to make changes to its public direct messaging feature after a backlash highlighted the potential for harassment from people sending abusive messages.
The Slack Connect DM feature, unveiled in October, became generally available to paid users of the platform on Wednesday. It enables Slack users to send an invite to someone outside of their Slack “workspace,” which, when accepted by the other party, allows direct messages to be exchanged in the chat app.
The invite is sent to the recipient’s email address with a button to “accept” the invitation. Prior to Slack’s changes, the sender could also include a text message to the recipient within the invite.
However, Twitter users quickly pointed out how the feature could be abused, with the ability to send harassing messages. Since the invite emails are sent from a single firstname.lastname@example.org account — blocking them means all Connect DM invites are then marked as spam.
Following the backlash, Slack said it would no longer allow messages to be added to Connect DM invites, thus preventing abusive ones from being included in the invite email.
"After rolling out Slack Connect DMs this morning, we received valuable feedback from our users about how email invitations to use the feature could potentially be used to send abusive or harassing messages," Jonathan Prince, Slack’s vice president of communications and policy, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
"We are taking immediate steps to prevent this kind of abuse, beginning with the removal today of the ability to customise a message when a user invites someone to Slack Connect DMs.
"We made a mistake in this initial rollout that is inconsistent with our goals for the product and the typical experience of Slack Connect usage. As always, we are grateful to everyone who spoke up, and we are committed to fixing this issue."
The feature is part of the Slack Connect platform unveiled last June; it enables up to 20 companies to communicate in a shared workspace.
Slack admins must “opt-in” to use enable Slack Connect. Once enabled, the Connect DM feature is switched on by default, though it can be disabled for users by changing permissions settings to prevent the invites from being sent or received. Admins can also restrict the sending of DM invitations to “verified organisations” only.
According to Slack help centre site, admins can disable the Connect DM feature for users by changing permissions settings for DMs to prevent the invites from being sent or received. Admins can also restrict the sending of DM invitations to “verified organisations” only.
A Slack spokesperson said that as while it is not currently possible to block individuals, the company continues to explore new ways to “empower our users and give our admins more granular tools to take action on harassment or otherwise unacceptable behaviour.
“That being said, if harassment is occurring on our platform and your employer is unable to intervene, we encourage you to contact us via Slack’s Help Centre to report your concerns and we will investigate and take appropriate action,” the spokesperson said.
Slack plans to extend access to Connect DMs from paid customers to all free users later this year.
“The ability for Slack users on a paid plan to direct message others extends the abilities and the possibilities in streamlining the flow of work,” said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC. “It could still be transformative with a proper launch.”
The launch of the feature on Wednesday was “uncharacteristic” for Slack, said Kurtzman, and — with the company awaiting regulatory clearance for its $27.7 billion acquisition by Salesforce — could have been hampered by limitations of a company being in a pre-acquisition mode.
“The user base has been waiting on this feature for some time, and perhaps Slack got the reaction it needed to properly roll this feature out with the privacy elements that people expect,” he said.