What if you could send an e-mail to a co-worker, text a friend or post something on Facebook confident that it would eventually self- destruct?
So long, immortality. Hello, peace of mind.
Consider the technology that a quartet of computer scientists at the University of Washington introduced to the world in July. It's called Vanish, and it's designed to make your electronic messages do just that.
"With self-destructing data, users can regain control over the lifetimes of their Web objects, such as private messages on Facebook, documents on Google Docs, or private photos on Flickr," the researchers wrote in the paper announcing their work.
They suggested the scenario of a fictitious Anne confiding to a friend the details of her troubled marriage. Anne might want to confide in her buddy, but as soon as the message had been read by that friend it could only pose trouble. Anne's complaints about her husband might later prove embarrassing, damaging in a divorce or an obstacle to reconciliation.
Even if she had used robust encryption, a court order might someday subpoena the key — and with it, her secrets.
But what if she sent a message encrypted by software, and the key to unlocking it — an almost impossibly large number — would be scattered across the Internet?
Inevitably, a piece of the key would become lost over time, erasing hopes of reopening the message at a later date.
Such technology challenges the Digital Age adage that removing something from the Internet is like getting pee out of a swimming pool. In this case, however, some things could actually evaporate in cyberspace.
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