Patent watchers have been abuzz with talk of AT&T’s claim to have invented email that self-destructs. It sounds great for security, but how useful would it really be?
“Method, System, and Apparatus for Providing Self-Destructing Electronic Mail Messages” is U.S. patent application number 20130159436 and was made public recently.
It describes an email client and server application that prevents the copying, forwarding, or saving of emails since they will be programmed to self-delete.
“The inability to control the number and type of operations that may be subsequently performed on a sent e-mail message makes conventional e-mail systems unsuitable for sending confidential information for which absolute control of distribution is a necessity,” the application states.
The system can be set to destroy the message at a preset time, with the option to do so regardless of whether it’s been read or not. It will also limit what can be done with the message.
“The e-mail message will be destroyed by the e-mail client application whether or not the message has been read. Alternatively, if the e-mail message specifies that it should be deleted after it has been read, the e-mail client application will destroy the e-mail message once it has been opened and closed by the recipient. All instances of the e-mail message are deleted from the recipient’s computer.”
Observers have pointed out, however, that the notion of self-deleting email has been around for decades and can be easily thwarted by screen capture or by taking a photo of the screen with a camera.
“The worst part is all these confidential memos are going to be on AT&T servers, which are hooked directly to the government servers run by the NSA, according to recent revelations about our government snooping,” writes PC Mag’s John Dvorak. “So how confidential can anything actually be if AT&T is involved? This is probably something to be avoided.”