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This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

In an age when shadowy three-letter organizations monitor all traffic in and out of Google and Facebook, tap phone lines, and generally watch everything, a little secrecy is a valuable thing. Especially if you’re sharing juicy office gossip.

Which is why Powerinbox is launching SecretInk today, a privacy, self-destructing messaging service.

“SecretInk is a tool to send secure messages over your existing channels,” Powerinbox product manager Toby Padilla told me yesterday. “Passwords, account information, office gossip … anything.”

The difference between SecretInk and Snapchat is that the recipient and the sender don’t both have to belong to a certain network or have accounts or a specific app. Essentially, you use the SecretInk site to create a message, pick whether you want to send it via email or SMS, and send it.

Here’s what getting, reading, creating, and sending a SecretInk message is like:

The person you send it to gets the message via email or SMS, follows the link to the secure, encrypted site where the message is, and reads it. As he or she reads it, there’s a cool burning effect — yes, sort of like Mission Impossible — that, in 15 seconds or so, finishes. Then it erases the message from the screen, and from Powerinbox’s servers, never to be seen again.

One of the things SecretInk does, of course, is prevent advertisers — like those that advertise in Gmail — from seeing your messages as well. That’s interesting, because Powerinbox CEO Jeff Kupietzky sees advertising potential in this new communications style.

“SecretInk is free to consumers,” he says. “We have plans for a premium offering for marketers … imagine getting an email or SMS that says ‘In the next 8 seconds here’s your coupon code, or it will self-destruct.’ You will get immediate behavior from something like that.”

The team has been using SecretInk while developing it, sending passwords and other private information around, eating their own dog food. I’ve also jumped through hoops to send server details and password information to people, getting on Skype because it’s encrypted — although that’s not entirely safe either — or sending small pieces of the information at intervals.

This is a good alternative.

And — somewhat uniquely — SecretInk allows you to send SMS messages from the web for free, something you don’t see every day.

Just don’t take the privacy part too seriously. Someone can always take screenshots … as you can see I did above, in the gallery.


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