Mission Impossible – AT&T Creates Emails Which Self-Destruct


Self destructing messages are seemingly becoming all the rage at the moment – SnapChat with it’s self-destructing pics; Wickr with its self-destructing SMS, videos and PDFs and Efemr with its self-destructing tweets – to name just a few recent arrivals.  And now email.  Telecoms giant AT&T has had a patent published recently which paves the way for emails which have a short life and then self-destruct.

The patent explains a system whereby the sender can set rules on how the email can be viewed – for instance can it be forwarded on?  If so, to whom?  The email sender can also set a date and time after which the email becomes unreadable.  And that all important self-destruct means you can remotely destroy a message you’ve sent.  From a security point of view this is far preferable to the current alternative of recalling an email – an exercise which often fails even if the person you’ve sent the email to hasn’t even yet read the email.

AT&T’s email system won’t work with all email.  The person you’re sending the email to would also have to have the right AT&T software installed as well.

The system is unlikely to be adopted widely for day-to-day sending of personal emails, but in business where there is a need to have full control over sensitive data, having full control over where emails are sent (and being notified when emails are treated outside rules) is hugely important.

However as ever there’s an Achilles heel to this product.  A good old fashioned screen-grab would still work.  With this in mind perhaps the danger is that AT&T’s system could give businesses a false sense of security.

James Barnes,

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