Gmail’s confidential mode — the privacy-preserving email feature Google unveiled last April — launched in beta roughly three months ago (in March), and the Mountain View company today announced that starting June 25, it’ll become generally available for G Suite customers. This writer is already seeing it in his inbox.
Confidential mode, you might recall, allows email senders to create expiration dates, revoke previously sent messages, and remove options for recipients to forward, copy, print, and download via built-in Information Rights Management (IRM) controls — all toward the goal of protecting highly sensitive or personal content. Optionally, users can require two-factor authentication via text message to view an email, which Google contends makes it easier to preserve a message’s integrity even if a recipient’s account is compromised.
Confidential mode is switched on by default for all domains with Gmail enabled. Disabling it requires heading to G Suite’s Admin console, navigating to Apps > G Suite > Settings for Gmail > User settings, and looking for the “Enable confidential mode” checkbox. When it’s active, users see a button (to the right of the “insert image” shortcut on the toolbar beneath the message body) to turn on confidential mode for an individual email. It opens a pop-up where they can set an expiration date or require a passcode.
Here’s how it all works from the recipient’s end: Google sends a link to the content, and if it’s opened in Gmail (either on the web or in an app), it displays the content of the message in-line. If the recipient isn’t a Gmail user, they have to click to view the email in a separate Google Cloud-hosted portal.
Google notes that confidential mode has its limitations. It won’t prevent recipients from snapping screenshots or photos of messages or attachments. And Google Vault retains all confidential messages sent by users within an organization (but doesn’t allow the content or attachments from external confidential messages to be searched). Still, it believes confidential mode has the potential to “dramatically” cut down on malicious actors’ ability to access sensitive information.