AT&T (NYSE: T) has filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office that would allow users to set a time when they want an e-mail message to be destroyed.
Users can also restrict the ability of a recipient to replicate the e-mail message, AT&T said.
"The e-mail message will be destroyed by the e-mail client application whether or not the message has been read," AT&T wrote in the patent application. "Alternatively, if the e-mail message specifies that it should be deleted after it has been read, the e-mail client application will destroy the e-mail message once it has been opened and closed by the recipient. All instances of the e-mail message are deleted from the recipient's computer."
Today, when users send e-mail, they have no way to control what happens with it. The recipient, however, has the ability to forward, print, save or copy the message for their own records.
"Conventional e-mail systems may also be inappropriate for sending confidential or proprietary information because these systems do not allow the sender of an e-mail message to control the lifespan of the e-mail message," AT&T said in the patent application. "E-mail messages may, therefore, languish in a recipient's e-mail 'in-box' or on an e-mail server computer for months or even years."
AT&T added that since the current e-mail systems don't allow the sender to specify a time for destruction of the sent e-mail message" the sender of the e-mail "cannot be certain that a sent e-mail message containing time sensitive information will ever be deleted."
The patent was filed by William A. Hartselle, Shannon M. Short and Vernon Meadows, three AT&T employees based in Atlanta.
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