Monday, January 22, 2007

Email without leaving a trace

The world of record-keeping just became even more interesting. VaporStream is a service that vanquishes email correspondences after they've been received, in Mission Impossible-style virtuality. Instead of five seconds, the reader has until he clicks out of the message. The name of the sender disappears even faster than that.

As the technology behind the patent is pending, the LLC's site doesn't detail how it works. From my limited understanding of the virtual world, it appears that Vapor sends an empty email with a sort of IM attachment. Consequently, no email record is leftover in either the sender's or the receiver's email account, and Vapor, which hosts the email-turned-IM, deletes the IM from its server after the correspondence has been read. The service also claims to disallow saving and printing of any messages. I suppose "Print Screen" is probably still a viable circumvention, but the service is not billed as being designed to keep 'whistleblowers' who receive untoward communications from reporting them, but for allowing communication that neither party ever wants to be made public to remain forever private.

It seems inevitable that such a service will run into subpoenas from the SEC or other governmental investigators wanting records (like what happened last year to several major search engines) of the communications Vapor has relayed and then destroyed. Such a situation will put the company in an extremely precarious position, sticking it between challenging the government and defrauding its customers, who were sold on the service precisely because it promised no third-party would ever become privy to confidential communications.

While it apparently does allow mischievious employees to get away with amorous emails and dirty-joke exchanges, a company can still monitor these things via remote access.

The huge potential upside is that it will allow company executives and other employers to communicate candidly and honestly, without the perpetual fear of stepping outside the bounds of political correctness. This will encourage crucial risk-taking in a number of ways: R&D/brainstorming activity will be more secure, confidential exchanges will no longer include the burden of having to physically meet in discreet locations, and hiring/firing/promotional considerations will be able to be made with more attention to merit and less attention to fending off charges of whatever-ism (agism, sexism, racism, etc) down the road, allowing the market to be more efficient with the placement and utilization of its human capital.

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