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How many public figures have been brought down recently by their emails? What they thought was private email correspondence is suddenly leaked out and immediately goes viral, allowing everyone to read their most intimate thoughts. How embarrassing! But of course, it's not just public figures who are the victims. How many times have you witnessed at your school someone sending out an email that they should not have sent!
But perhaps some new tools may help make email just a little more private.
Over the past several weeks email vendors have announced a variety of email protections. The updated Microsoft Outlook.com will allow users to send, receive, and download encrypted files and messages. When composing an email in Outlook, if Outlook senses sensitive information is being included (like a social security number) then it will suggest that encryption be used. Outlook email recipients who receive an encrypted email can read and reply to the encrypted email just like it was a regular email without having to go through any additional steps. But what if the receiver is not using Outlook? The receiver will instead receive a link to a trusted Office 365 webpage where they can choose to receive a one-time passcode to view the encrypted email. Outlook also adds some other privacy features. Senders can restrict their email recipients from forwarding or copying emails send from Outlook. And attachments created in Microsoft Office remain encrypted even after downloading, so if your recipient tries to forward or share your attachment with someone else the new receiver cannot open it. And any emails sent with this "prevent forwarding option" are also encrypted.
Not to be outdone, Gmail also has new email protection features. With Gmail's new "Confidential Mode" enabled, the email itself is not sent via the normal Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Instead, Google only sends the recipient a link to the content and not the actual email itself. If the recipient is using Gmail the content can be displayed "in-line" so that looks like a regular email. But it's not a regular email, because the email is not sent and stored in the receiver's Gmail account; rather, the receiver is just viewing an image of the message and is not actually receiving the message itself. Without actually transmitting the email it is never stored in anyone else's account, and thus minimizes the risk of the email being viewed by someone else. If the recipient is not using Gmail, they will be directed to a separate Google Cloud-hosted portal to view the email. You can also set an expiration date so that the email is no longer available once the deadline passes.
Will these new tools help make email just a little more private? If used correctly, they can certainly help.
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