When people want extra privacy for their e-mail and other messages, they sometimes turn to encryption. At least one messaging service uses encryption but also takes privacy considerably further, permanently deleting messages after they are read.
VaporStream, from Void Communications, lets users sign into a Web page and, using any e-mail address that the user has registered, communicate with other VaporStream users. The vanishing messages also have another security feature: only a message header or message body, but not both, can be viewed at any time. This could help protect against possible threats such as prying eyes or even electronic screen scrapers.
“Why is it that just because I type something, it has to last forever?” says company CEO Jack Hembrough. From a privacy perspective, he says, the service is more like a phone conversation than e-mailing or texting in that no content is typically stored.
Because the product is Web-based, users do not need to download software. Signing up for the service is relatively simple: the user provides a few pieces of information, including an e-mail address and a password. Users log into the VaporStream home page and are then directed to a main messaging Web page. Ad-free and relatively quick to load, this page is simple and intuitive, consisting primarily of an inbox indicating any new messages and another box in which to type text. Destination e-mail addresses can be entered or chosen from a contact list.
Messages are protected in transit by strong 256-bit encryption and remain on a VaporStream server until retrieved. Once opened, messages cannot be forwarded, copied, or printed. Users can also send attachments, which can open quickly in a specialized viewing box.
Once they have been sent and opened, messages and any attachments disappear after a user logs out, refreshes the page, or clicks on a link in the service such as “inbox” or “my account.”
The product could be especially useful in certain regulated industries, such as healthcare. It would be less so in certain areas of finance in which messages are legally required to be stored. It could also be useful for high-level executives communicating within a company, if they needed to discuss certain human resources topics, for instance, or a sensitive business deal. Executives should be sure to check with legal counsel to ensure that doing so would not violate any requirements for recordkeeping.
To the extent the service is like a phone call in that no content is stored, VaporStream could be useful if someone wanted to avoid having a conversation overheard or simply preferred to use messaging.
Another possible benefit of the service is that it can reduce the need to store and perhaps later delete messages.
Users also have the option of downloading a software client, or “Intray,” to their computer or hand-held device. Always on, it can improve access to VaporStream.
To notify users of a new message, the software also briefly displays a pop-up in the corner of the screen when messages are received. It is currently available for Microsoft Windows computers and mobile devices as well as for Blackberries, from Research in Motion, and Apple iPhones.
Easy to use and working quickly and seamlessly, VaporStream could be useful when some added privacy is needed.
Pros. Easy to sign up for and use. As it is Web-based, it isn’t necessary to download software. It works with virtually any e-mail service and can reduce the need to store or delete messages.
Cons. The software client “Intray” is not currently available for Apple Macintosh computers. Users cannot refer to messages or attachments after-the-fact (but this is part of what makes the service different).
Where to get it. This service can be accessed at vaporstream.com. Free 30-day trials are available, otherwise it costs $7.50 per user per month. Potential customers can ask for a customized quote for larger orders.