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Google is testing self-destructing emails in new Gmail

Google is working on a brand new design for the web version of Gmail. Yesterday, I published screenshots of the new design. TechCrunch’s tipster Chaim also discovered an interesting new feature in the new Gmail. You’ll soon be able to send expiring emails.

Working on an email service is hard as you have to be compatible with all sorts of email providers and email clients. But it doesn’t seem to be stopping Google as the company is now evolving beyond the simple POP3/IMAP/SMTP protocols.

Based on those screenshots, expiring emails work pretty much like expiring emails in ProtonMail. After some time, the email becomes unreadable.

In the compose screen, there’s a tiny lock icon called “confidential mode”. It says that the recipient won’t be able to forward email content, copy and paste, download or print the email.

You can configure the expiration date so that your email disappears after 1 week, 1 month, multiple years, etc. You can also ask your recipient to confirm their identity with a passcode sent via text message. This sounds like a great way to associate email addresses with phone numbers and improve Google’s ads.

When our tipster clicked on “Learn more”, it opened Google’s help articles but the page was not found. The feature isn’t ready for prime time just yet.

On the recipient’s side, the person was using the existing version of Gmail and received a link to view the confidential email. The recipient had to log into their Google account once again to view the content. When viewing the confidential message, copy and paste as well as the print feature were disabled — it didn’t stop our tipster from taking a screenshot of the email though.

It’s unclear if this feature is going to be compatible with non-Gmail users as the company asks you to confirm your Google account to view the confidential message. It’s also unclear if the integration is going to work better in the future when everybody is using the new Gmail.

For instance, when a ProtonMail user sends an expiring message to another ProtonMail user, it looks like a regular email in the inbox. After the message expires, it is automatically deleted from the inbox and the sender’s outbox.

In Gmail’s current implementation, it sounds like Google simply generates an email with a link. The message behind the link disappears after a while, but not necessarily the intermediate email.

It’s also worth noting that Google doesn’t mention end-to-end encryption anywhere. A “confidential” message doesn’t have to be encrypted. It’s likely that Google could still see the content of that message and comply with warrants. Once again, Google said that the new Gmail is going to come out in a few weeks. Confidential emails could be released at the same time or at a later date.

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Facebook’s new authorization process for political ads goes live in the US

Earlier this month — and before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress — the company announced a series of changes to how it would handle political advertisements running on its platform in the future. It had said that people who wanted to buy a political ad — including ads about political “issues” — would have to reveal their identities and location and be verified before the ads could run. Information about the advertiser would also display to Facebook users. Today, Facebook is announcing the authorization process for U.S. political ads is live. Facebook had first said in October that political advertisers would have to verify their identity and location for election-related ads. But in April, it expanded that requirement to include any “issue ads” — meaning those on political topics being debated across the country, not just those tied to an election. Facebook said it would work with third parties to identify the issues. These ads would then be labeled as “Political Ads,” and display the “paid for by” information to end users. According to today’s announcement, Facebook will now begin to verify the identity and the residential mailing address of advertisers who want to run political ads. Those advertisers will also have to disclose who’s paying for the ads as part of this authorization process. This verification process is currently only open in the U.S. and will require Page admins and ad account admins to submit their government-issued ID to Facebook, along with their residential mailing address. The government ID can either be a U.S. passport or U.S. driver’s license, a FAQ explains. Facebook will also ask for the last four digits of admins’ Social Security Number. The photo ID will then be approved or denied in a matter of minutes, though anyone declined based on the quality of the uploaded images won’t be prevented from trying again. The address, however, will be verified by mailing a letter with a unique access code that only the admin’s Facebook account can use. The letter may take up to 10 days to arrive, Facebook notes. Along with the verification portion, Page admins will also have to fill in who paid for the ad in the “disclaimer” section. This has to include the organization(s) or person’s name(s) who funded it. This information will also be reviewed prior to approval, but Facebook isn’t going to fact check this field, it seems. Instead, the company simply says: “We’ll review each disclaimer to make sure it adheres to our advertising policies. You can edit your disclaimers at any time, but after each edit, your disclaimer will need to be reviewed again, so it won’t be immediately available to use.” The FAQ later states that disclaimers must comply with “any applicable law,” but again says that Facebook only reviews them against its ad policies. “It’s your responsibility as the advertiser to independently assess and ensure that your ads are in compliance with all applicable election and advertising laws and regulations,” the documentation reads. Along with the launch of the new authorization procedures, Facebook has released a Blueprint training course to guide advertisers through the steps required, and has published an FAQ to answer advertisers’ questions. Of course, these procedures will only net the more scrupulous advertisers willing to play by the rules. That’s why Facebook had said before that it plans to use AI technology to help sniff out those advertisers who should have submitted to verification, but did not. The company is also asking people to report suspicious ads using the “Report Ad” button. Facebook has been under heavy scrutiny because of how its platform was corrupted by Russian trolls on a mission to sway the 2016 election. The Justice Department charged 13 Russians and three companies with election interference earlier this year, and Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts associated with disinformation campaigns. While tougher rules around ads may help, they alone won’t solve the problem. It’s likely that those determined to skirt the rules will find their own workarounds. Plus, ads are only one of many issues in terms of those who want to use Facebook for propaganda and misinformation. On other fronts, Facebook is dealing with fake news — including everything from biased stories to those that are outright lies, intending to influence public opinion. And of course there’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which led to intense questioning of Facebook’s data privacy practices in the wake of revelations that millions of Facebook users had their information improperly accessed. Facebook says the political ads authorization process is gradually rolling out, so it may not be available to all advertisers at this time. Currently, users can only set up and manage authorizations from a desktop computer from the Authorizations tab in a Facebook Page’s Settings.

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