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Self Destructing Email?


Fans of the TV and movie series Mission Impossible should enjoy this story regarding email. Once you send an email, it’s out there in cyberspace – you lose control of it. It’s stored on email servers and in-boxes for months or even years and might be copied, forwarded or otherwise distributed without the originator’s knowledge, posing a threat to organizations and individuals.

AT&T aims to neutralize that threat. The phone giant filed a U.S. patent application June 20 for technology that would enable users to create self-destructing emails. Using it, they would be able to specify a time for the destruction of sent email that will eradicate all instances of said message as of the specified date.

“Conventional e-mail systems may also be inappropriate for sending confidential or proprietary information because these systems do not allow the sender of an e-mail message to control the lifespan of the e-mail message,” the patent application states according to an Atlanta Business Chronicle article.

“E-mail messages may, therefore, languish in a recipient’s e-mail ‘in-box’ or on an e-mail server computer for months or even years. Some e-mail systems will allow an e-mail recipient to specify that messages should be deleted after a certain amount of time. However, these systems do not allow the sender to specify a time for destruction of the sent e-mail message. Therefore, an e-mail sender cannot be certain that a sent e-mail message containing time sensitive information will ever be deleted.”

The new technology gives email users some flexibility in specifying just how and under what circumstances sent emails would be destroyed. They might choose to have them destroyed automatically as of a certain date whether read or unread, for instance, or choose an option to have them destroyed once read.

In addition to its built-in self-destruct mechanism, AT&T’s technology would enable originator’s to restrict the number and type of things that may be done to a sent email message, restricting the ability of recipients to copy or redistribute it.

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