How to use Gmail’s new confidential emails feature

Google has introduced a number of new features in their new Gmail update, including Offline mail, Smart Compose and a new Confidential Mode. As the name suggests, confidential mode is used for sharing sensitive information via email. Emails protected with this feature cannot be forwarded, downloaded or printed and their contents cannot be copy pasted either.

Send Confidential Emails in Gmail

To use the confidential mode, you must have the new Gmail design enabled in your Google account. These are the different ways in which you can enable the new design, based on your account type:

  • If you are on a regular @gmail.com account, chances are that you already have the new design.
  • If you are on a paid G Suite account, you must contact your admin, or enable New Gmail Early Adopter Program from Google Admin dashboard.
  • Many free Google Apps users still do not have access to New Gmail Early Adopter Program in their Admin dashboard. Luckily, there is a workaround to enable Gmail on free Google Apps account, without having to pay for a G Suite account.

Note: you cannot send Gmail Confidential messages using the Gmail app for iOS or Android. These apps can only be used for viewing such emails.

Once you have the new design enabled, click the compose button to open a new window. You should see a new icon, as pointed out in the screenshot below:

Gmail compose confidential mode button

Clicking this button will open Confidential Mode settings.

Confidential Mode

From this dialogue box, you can do the following:

  • Set expiration date. This is where you can set the time after which your email will expire. You can select the time from 1 day to 5 years in this dropdown.
  • Require passcode. Google will generate a passcode which has to be used to open the email. If the recipient has a Gmail account, Google lets you send the passcode via SMS. Other email service users will receive the passcode via email. Note that the number of countries where you can send passcode via SMS is very limited, so you might have to send emails without a passcode, in case your recipient’s country is not in the list.

Confidential Mode Set Expiration

Once you have selected your Confidential Mode options, the email compose window will show the expiration date and a notification that the email is protected from forwarding, attachment downloading and printing.

Gmail Confidential Content Expire

If the recipient has the latest Gmail apps on web or mobile, they can easily open the email. Users of other services will have get an email with a link to view the email in a new window:

Confidential Email Receiver

Clicking on view the email button will open up the email like this. If a passcode was set, the recipient will have to enter it to open the email.

Confidential Email new page

As a sender, you can also revoke access early by going to the email in your inbox and clicking on Remove access.

Confidential Mode Email

So how would you know that the recipient cannot forward, copy or print the email? There are a few ways I tested:

  • Text cannot be selected in the email, even if you try a ‘select all’ keyboard shortcut
  • You cannot right click on the email
  • Printing the email doesn’t work. You will see a message in the browser’s print dialogue box that printing is not allowed by the sender of this message.

However, if you know your way around a browser’s developer tools, it is not too difficult to copy the text. Gmail’s support also says the following:

These restrictions help prevent your recipients from accidentally sharing your email, but a malicious recipient or recipients with malicious programs might still be able to copy your message or attachments.

It is best to keep this in mind before using Confidential Mode. It is not bullet proof and is only intended to avoid accidents.

Outlook also offers email encryption which prevents recipients from forwarding them to others, however, you need a paid office 365 subscription to use this feature.