This e-mail will self-destruct in five seconds

Like a "Mission Impossible" tape, e-mails could disintegrate before unauthorized eyes get a chance to view them, according to an AT&T patent application.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Self-destructing email
Good luck, Jim: E-mails could be set to delete themselves, and prevent forwarding or copying. USPTO

Ever lose sleep over e-mails you've sent? Messages of an embarrassing nature that make you wish you hadn't clicked on "send"?

AT&T is thinking of you. It applied for a patent for self-deleting e-mail. Once sent, these missives won't hang around in some inbox waiting for someone to do what he pleases with them. They'll disintegrate, so to speak.

"Method, System, and Apparatus for Providing Self-Destructing Electronic Mail Messages" is U.S. patent application number 20130159436 and was recently made public.

The application outlines an e-mail client system and server application that can send and receive messages that self-delete.

The filing notes that e-mails, once sent, are outside the control of the sender. They can be copied, saved, printed, or forwarded.

"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.

It goes on to say that some e-mail systems that allow users to set up their client so that messages are deleted after a certain period of time. Still, the power to destroy the message remains in the hands of the recipient.

The application describes how the client and application will destroy the message at a set time, with the option to do so regardless of whether it's been read or not. They 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."

Now what would the NSA think about that?

(Via Fierce Telecom)