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How to send a confidential message on Gmail

How to send a confidential message on Gmail

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Set your messages to expire and prevent them from being shared

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Hand holding gmail on phone
Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

Google uses TLS (what is called standard encryption) to keep your emails relatively safe in transit. (The service does also have the more secure S/MIME encryption, but it’s only available for business and educational institutions.) There are, however, other ways you can keep your personal data a little safer, and one is by using Google’s confidential mode.

Google introduced its confidential mode for Gmail in 2018. The setting allows people to send messages that can expire and prevents recipients from copying their contents, forwarding them to others, or downloading them.

You can use confidential mode on a desktop or through the Gmail app on mobile, though whichever you use, you’ll need to activate confidential mode each time you send a message. Here’s how to do it.

In your browser

The locked clock icon
Look for the icon of a locked clock to the right of the Send button.
  • Compose a new message.
  • Look for the icon of a locked clock to the right of the Send button (it may be hard to find among all the other icons, but keep looking) and tap it.
  • A pop-up will appear that allows you to set the parameters for how long you’d like recipients to have access to your message before it expires — starting at one day and going up to five years.
confidential mode window
You can set the parameters for when the message will disappear and if it needs a passcode.
  • Below the expiration date, you’ll see a Require Passcode category. If the person you’re emailing has Gmail, and you’d like an extra layer of security, select SMS passcode to also require them to input a passcode that will be texted to their phone number. If your recipient doesn’t have Gmail, even if you select No SMS passcode, they will be sent a passcode via email.
  • A notification that the message is being sent in confidential mode will appear across the bottom of the message.

On mobile

Three mobile screenshots showing confidential message.
The steps for a mobile email are largely the same as that for a web email.

These steps are largely the same, but some of the items are located in different places than you’ll find in your browser. The process is the same for both iOS and Android versions of Gmail.

  • Compose a message.
  • Tap the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of the app, then tap Confidential mode.
  • As with a browser, you’ll have the option to set how long the message should be viewable by recipients and whether it’s protected by a passcode.
  • Once you’ve adjusted the settings, a message sent in confidential mode will display a small window across the bottom that details how long the message will exist before expiring.

Update August 18th, 2022, 2:57PM ET: This article was originally published on May 31st, 2019, and has been updated to account for changes in the app.

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