AT&T's patent application for "self-destructing e-mail" went public late last month, revealing the company wants to give people more control over their online messages.
The application, originally filed in November 2012, notes that the new technology would let people send emails that self-destruct after they're read, or after a certain period of time, regardless of whether they've been read. Recipients of the self-destructing emails would be able to prevent the notes from being forwarded or saved. The technology is similar to a number of privacy-centric messaging services already on the market.
If you send emails you're afraid might come back to haunt you, AT&T's self-destructing emails might be a godsend -- they certainly could have helped those Enron executives several years back. But if you think the technology is a clever way to hide your emails from the National Security Agency, you might be out of luck. While the emails themselves would self-destruct, they may still be stored on AT&T's servers before being wholly deleted.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated that AT&T had filed a patent, not an application for a patent.
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