If you've always wanted to be a part of Mission Impossible, I have good news for you: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get hyped, because Gmail's new confidential mode may include "self-destructing" emails. According to TechCrunch, we don't know if or when the full feature will be rolling out to all Gmail users, but for now, we've got the lowdown on what expiring emails could look like in use, and what their addition will mean for Gmail users.
Expiring emails are potentially part of the suite of new options coming with the future version of Gmail. Google revealed on April 11 that it's working on a complete redesign of Gmail, and that redesign is "currently being tested inside Google and with trusted partners," The Verge reported. It could be available to users in a matter of weeks, according to TechCrunch. Judging by the screenshots that were sent to TechCrunch, there are a few interesting things in the works, including a right-hand column that will let you see things like Google Calendar and Tasks, and will let you load widgets of other apps, TechCrunch reported.
But one of the most interesting features being tested is, of course, expiring emails. The option to send a self-destructing email shows up in the usual compose screen, with a lock icon that indicates "confidential mode," according to TechCrunch. Along with being able to choose what the email's expiration date will be (TechCrunch said there are options including one week, one month, and multiple years), turning on confidential mode means "the recipient won't be able to forward email content, copy and paste, download or print the email," TechCrunch reported. You'll also have the option to "ask your recipient to confirm their identity with a passcode sent via text message." TechCrunch noted that despite the various security measures in place, Chaim was still able to take a screencap of an email sent using confidential mode.
Another potential sticking point is that it's not certain whether Gmail users will be able to use confidential mode if they're sending a message to someone who uses another email service, since "the company asks you to confirm your Google account to view the confidential message," TechCrunch reported. Once the recipient confirms their account, they're able to access the confidential message, which is viewable by clicking a generated link.
As for whether "confidential" means Google won't be able to view the contents of your email, that's not certain either. In 2017, Google stopped analyzing users' emails for the purpose of personalizing advertisements, but Google does still scan your emails. You see the results of this in things like automatically being able to add dates in emails to your Google Calendar, and in Google's recently added Smart Reply feature, Variety reported.
TechCrunch pointed out that "Google doesn't mention end-to-end encryption anywhere" for its confidential mode. "A 'confidential' message doesn't have to be encrypted. It's likely that Google could still see the content of that message and comply with warrants" in cooperation with legal investigations, TechCrunch reported.
While there are currently a few services, like Snapmail, that already allow you to send self-destructing emails, having the feature worked into Gmail could be a huge asset for people sharing sensitive information through the enormously popular platform. And while it's easy to imagine that "sensitive information" has a nefarious meaning, practical, everyday applications could involve things as benign as an email containing a temporary password, or sharing a confidential in-progress presentation with other group members. And though it could be a downer if the feature restricts recipients to Google users only, the feature does sound Mission Impossible-ready, and I, for one, am choosing to accept.