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Microsoft launches self-destructing email (false)

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An urban myth has grown up around today’s launch of Microsoft Office 2003 which suggests that the product features technology that allows embarrassing emails to “self destruct” after a specified time period.

If you believe early reports, the inclusion of an Information Rights Management technology within Microsoft Office 2003 means that embarrassing documents will vanish into the ether after a determined period.

We’re told the package includes safeguards such as a "self destruct" mechanism, putting a time limit on the lifespan of documents, as well as the ability to limit which recipients can open, edit, copy or even print a document.

So no more embarrassing revelations spreading across company email systems like wildfire (Claire Swires) or legally dubious memos (Merrill Lynch technology analyst Henry Blodget describing stock he promoted in email as “junk”) to worry about?

Unfortunately not.

Microsoft’s Information Rights Management technology does include controls that enable the author of information to control its use. However users looking for Mission Impossible-style auto-destruct technology are likely to be disappointed.

"There is no technology or functionality within Office 2003 to make emails or documents disappear," a Microsoft spokeswoman told The Register.

"After a time limit an email doesn’t vanish – it expires. Someone with administrative rights can still retrieve it from a server," she added.

Jamie Cowper, consultant at Mirapoint, a messaging firm, adds: “Although some of the features may make it more difficult for sensitive information to be 'forwarded' into the wrong hands, the fact remains that it will still be stored centrally due to archiving laws, making companies liable if the content is incriminating. People have an uncanny knack of overcoming technical limitations if the information is valuable enough." ®

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