Column

Recordless email, magical or menacing?

Steve Duplessie

A new Web-based messaging service is ingenious, insidious or both.

If, during the process of eradicating gophers in the backyard, you came up with a nuclear-powered solution consisting of $11 worth of duct tape, Silly Putty and a can of Raid, would you market it to the world? You would if all you saw were dollar signs, which might make you forget that others could use your discovery for things not involving furry critters (at least the cute kind).

Case in point: VaporStream. This magical startup may make a billion dollars for all the wrong reasons or this may be the last you ever hear of them. I haven't spoken with these surely upstanding capitalists, but my people have and they immediately knew I'd love this from an entertainment perspective.

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VaporStream has created -- now get this -- recordless messaging. Invisible, untraceable, disappearing-ink email. Create it, hit "Send" and it's completely gone without a single smudge left on your machine, server, caches, DNA or your dirty mind. CSI couldn't find a molecule of the message even with a four-hour, commercial-free special.

That's because it never lived on your machine. It lived "out there" like an alien pod in the ether on some VaporSpaz server. Or did it? You don't know. As soon as it's transmitted to the only authorized viewer, all traces are hosed off VaporSpaz and the entire machine is tossed into Mount Doom next to Frodo's ring. What message?

The company seems to think there's a big market for "recordless messaging" because CEOs and the like don't want a record of everything. That's true, albeit a bit misguided. The only reason not to have a record of something is because: A) It's illegal; B) It might be illegal; or C) I don't think it's illegal, but I don't want to get caught having it because I'm surely gonna get canned if I do.

The pro-use argument is simple: For private, nonregulated messages where I want to ensure that my double-secret missive regarding our offer to acquire super-stealthy TechnoLuv Inc. isn't intercepted by competitors or other bad people. Who needs encryption if the message disappears? No need to wear a costume if you're invisible, eh?

I buy the theory; I just don't trust people to use it right. Here's what's really going to happen: Everyone on the planet who harbors the will or intent to do others harm will use it to send "Atomic bomb à la mode recipes" and "Place the briefcase next to the traffic light" or "Really? I'm 13, too, and I love that mall" messages to accomplices or unwitting victims, knowing they'll never be found out. Best case, we'll have CEO types saying things they shouldn't about subjects they shouldn't mention to people who shouldn't hear. Because it's obvious this will happen (I have ADD and it took me about four seconds to figure it out), some government will have to: A) Buy them out and send them someplace far, far away; B) Arrange an unsolvable spelunking accident while the technology somehow gets misplaced forever; or C) Some giant archive/record management player will buy them and do some version of both A and B. If you're VaporStream's neighbor, consider a bulletproof vest and working away from the house.

Shouldn't some spook have heard about this and "made it go away" by now? Didn't VaporStream's CEO realize there's no legitimate business reason for this stuff, but huge, potentially bad, ramifications? I hope they get paid and not "disappeared," I really do. It seems ingenious, assuming it works. Or maybe no one has done it (publicly anyway) because they want to live and not be the one responsible for all the potential damage it can cause? Thankfully, Congressman Mark Foley wasn't a beta test site. How many more pages might have had the opportunity to become the victims of a high-ranking public figure/sexual predator if Mr. F had this stuff?

But what it really may enable is the end of the world, so I'm just gonna have to take a tough stand and announce that I'm against it. That's just me, old school. Isn't the only way to kill someone with a Centera or some Symantec/KVS software to either drop the box on them or wait until they have a heart attack when they see the new maintenance bill?

This column by Mr. Duplessie first appeared in Storage's November 2006 issue.

About the author:
Steve Duplessie is the founder and senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.


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