Google has delivered its latest email feature by adding a confidential mode for Gmail. And just as the name suggests, the new feature allows you to send and receive “confidential” emails.
According to Google’s support website, confidential emails have a sender-defined expiration date (from one day to five years), but access to the email can also be revoked at any time. Additionally, recipients are not able to forward, copy, print or download these emails. However, these efforts aren’t foolproof. Determined users will still be able to take a picture or screenshot the confidential email, therefore there is still some risk involved.
The emails will be received like normal emails for all Gmail users, but those using other services such as Yahoo, the email will be opened in a secure web portal. The sender of a confidential email can also require recipients to enter a passcode (sent via SMS or email) to open the message. SMS-based passcodes are the only option if your recipient is using a Gmail account, recipients using another email service can receive either SMS or email passcodes.
But user beware, these messages are not really as confidential as they may seem. Gmail is not an entirely encrypted platform and they are susceptible to “man in the middle” attacks, where users are tricked into divulging their account information to third parties who could read their messages without them knowing.
On top of that, expiring messages do not, in fact, disappear from the sender’s Sent mail folder, which makes them retrievable by anyone who can get access to their account. And remember: Gmail users can’t send these messages to anyone who doesn’t use Gmail.
Though confidential mode is meant to be an effort to protect user privacy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international digital-rights nonprofit, took issue with the search giant’s terminology. “[W]hat ‘Confidential Mode’ provides isn’t confidentiality,” the EFF wrote in a blog post. “At best, the new mode might create expectations that it fails to meet around security and privacy in Gmail… At worst, Confidential Mode will push users further into Google’s own walled garden while giving them what we believe are misleading assurances of privacy and security.”
At the moment, SMS-based passcodes are only supported in Europe, India, Japan, North America and South America. To find out how you can use Confidential Mode on your specific device, check out Google’s support page.