With privacy an ever-growing concern, Google is working on a new feature within Gmail. This new feature allows senders to set an expiration date on an email while composing it and is called “confidential mode”. The idea behind an expiring email is that any information transmitted in the email is no longer accessible after the expiration date. Even if the recipient hasn’t opened the email, once the expiration date passes, it’s no longer accessible to the recipient or the sender.
Similar features have previously only been available to corporate email services. Now it’s available to any Gmail user. To be clear, this feature is only available within Gmail in your browser, and even then, only if you’ve opted to switch “the new Gmail”. The new Gmail is a massive overhaul to the entire Gmail interface. If you’re not using it already, you can access the new Gmail via the gear icon at the top-right, then clicking “Try the new Gmail”.
Using Confidential Mode
You can activate confidential mode while composing a new email. At the bottom-right of the window, you’ll see a lock icon (see image). This icon allows you to toggle confidential mode on or off. When initially clicked, a dialog box (see image) appears asking you to select an expiration date. The options include Expire in 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, and 5 years.
You also have the option to require a passcode. Once you hit the Send button, you’ll be prompted to enter a phone number for the recipient that can receive SMS messages. Opening the email requires a code sent to the phone number you entered. This ensures only the intended recipient can open the email even if they’ve left Gmail open for other people to access. Basic instructions are available on Google’s help site.
Opening Messages in Confidential Mode
This feature works best when sending between two users who are both using the new Gmail in a browser. The recipient can access the message right there with no further steps (unless a passcode is required). If you use an email client, will much like it does for users with non-Gmail addresses.
If you send a message in confidential mode to a non-Gmail address, the recipient only receives an email from you with the subject line and a link to view the email in a browser. If the email is associated with a Google account, you’ll be required to log in (non-Gmail addresses can have a Google account). Otherwise, you’ll either be able to view the message, or if a passcode is required, you’ll need to click the “Send Passcode” button to open it.
After a message has been sent, the sender has the option of removing access whether the recipient has read the email or not. Just find the email in Sent folder, and click the link that says “Remove access”. No one will be able to access the message even if the expiration date has not yet passed.
Is The Message Really Gone?
No one seems to be able to determine if the message is actually gone after it expires. Neither the sender nor the recipient can view the message anymore, but Google doesn’t say anything in regards to whether the message is still stored on their servers. Google also doesn’t mention encryption at all in relation to confidential mode. It’s possible that Google still has access to confidential messages and may still be required to comply with providing access if required by warrant. The only response Google has give thus far is “We’re not able to comment on internal procedures.”
At the end of the day, confidential mode is still a useful feature for Gmail users. Not only does it help maintain privacy by limiting how long information is available, but requiring a passcode can also ensure only the intended recipient opens it. It’s definitely a step forward in email privacy.
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