Gmail is testing sending confidential emails that automatically expire
Google’s Gmail is one of the most popular email services worldwide. It has been acclaimed for its simplicity, robust feature set, and usability. The service has a web client as well as apps for Android and iOS. The Android and iOS clients both use Material Design, but the web client’s interface hasn’t been updated for years. This week, a brand new design was leaked by TechCrunch for the web version of Gmail, along with several new features including Smart Reply from the web client, the ability to snooze emails, and offline support.
Now, TechCrunch has reported on a new feature in the new Gmail: the ability to send confidential emails that expire. The publication’s report notes that email services have to be compatible with multiple email providers and email clients. However, that doesn’t seem to stop Google, as the company is now going beyond the POP3/IMAP/SMTP protocols.
The expiring emails feature works similarly to the expiring emails feature in ProtonMail as the email becomes unreadable after some time. In the compose window of Gmail, there is a small lock icon named “Confidential Mode,” which states that the email recipient won’t be able to forward email content, copy and paste, download or print the email.
According to TechCrunch, users can configure the expiration date to have their emails disappear after 1 week, 1 month, multiple years, etc. They can also ask the email recipient to confirm their identity with a passcode sent via text message.
TechCrunch states that the feature isn’t ready yet, as their source arrived at a non-existent page after clicking on the “Learn more” option to open Google’s help articles. The report describes that on the recipient’s side, the person used the existing version of Gmail and received a link to view the confidential email. The recipient had to log into their Google account once again to view the content. The interesting thing to note that when viewing the confidential message, copy/paste and print features were disabled, but TechCrunch‘s source was still able to take a screenshot of the email.
As of now, it’s unknown whether the feature is going to be compatible with non-Gmail users. This is because Google is currently asking users to confirm their Google account to view the confidential email.
TechCrunch also pointed out that when a ProtonMail user sends an expiring message to another ProtonMail user, the email looks like a regular email in the box. When it expires, it is automatically deleted from the inbox and the sender’s inbox. On the other hand, Google generates an email with a link in Gmail’s current implementation. The message behind the link disappears after some time, but this doesn’t mean that the intermediate email also disappears.
End-to-end encryption is also not mentioned by Google anywhere. TechCrunch‘s report notes that a confidential message doesn’t have to be encrypted, which means that it’s likely that Google can still see the content of the email. (This has the usual privacy implications.)
Google stated once again that the new Gmail is going to be released “in a few weeks.” Confidential emails may be released alongside the release of the new version or at a later point in time. As of now, the company hasn’t confirmed any details.