Gmail Confidential Mode

Keeping email correspondence ‘hush-hush’ between parties never sounded so easy with the release of Google’s Confidential Mode in Gmail for Google Workspace customers and Google for Education users. To ensure we are all on the same page – Confidential Mode is a setting within Gmail that allows emails to be sent and then automatically deleted from the recipients’ inbox (or subfolder) after a specified length of time. This hold-time set by the sender can range from 1 day and up to five years. Gmail users have had this feature since mid-2018, but the beta for Google Workspace was released in March 2019.

So – what does Confidential Mode mean for all of us in the EDU space? Panic about disappearing emails plaguing the school district? Nope, no need to fret. There are some easy ways to manage this feature and mitigate potential issues before they arise. 

Use vault for Gmail confidential messages

Confidential mode emails are now retained in vault and vault will retain, preserve, search, and export confidential mode messages, but there are limitations that should be taken into consideration prior to activation of the Confidential Mode email feature.

If a message is sent internally (from one member of your school district to another member of your school district): Vault is able to hold, retain, search, and export any/all Confidential Mode correspondence sent by users within your district. Internal Confidential Mode messages are always accessible in Vault, even if the sender sets an expiration date or revokes a recipients’ access to confidential messages.

Example of internal email using Confidential Mode:

If the message is sent by an external Gmail user (someone sending from a from Personal Gmail account outside of the school district’s domain), only the message headers and subjects can be held, retained, searched and exported. Vault is only able to access the subject lines of Confidential Mode emails sent from outside your school districts domain to a user on your domain. The content of the Confidential Mode email as well as any attachments from external senders will not be accessible.

You can create a compliance rule to block incoming confidential mode emails from external users. Amplified IT highly recommends blocking external (incoming) confidential messages because at this point, they are not retained/searchable within Vault.

Example of external email using Confidential Mode

Searching for Confidential Mode emails in Vault:

  • Vault returns any internal confidential messages that match the parameters of your search query. You will have the option to hide confidential message content when you preview and to exclude confidential message content when you print or export messages.

  • You can use label:confidentialmode to search for confidential messages. You can also use this label to apply holds and custom retention rules specifically to confidential messages.

Learn about preventing student-to-student emails

I have just shared details on how to manage Confidential Mode emails and it may seem that I would be suggesting that it isn’t ideal for EDU environments, but there are definitely scenarios that would make sense to provide some sort of restricted access. There are some great security features within Confidential Mode that have the potential to be very useful for specific OU’s within your domain.

Why Confidential Mode is helpful

The reason Confidential Mode is indeed ‘confidential’ is that is built in Information Rights Management (IRM). IRM removes the option/ability for recipients of an email to forward, copy, download, print messages or using the message in any way with the exception for its intended use. Having Confidential Mode enabled for administrative-level OU’s could be useful for sending sensitive data that should only be delivered to specific users within your district.

**Big note: Although confidential mode helps prevent the recipients from accidentally sharing your email, it doesn’t prevent recipients from taking screenshots or photos of your messages or attachments. Recipients who have malicious programs on their computer may still be able to copy or download your messages or attachments.

In addition to expiration dates, you can also require additional authentication via text message to view an email.

How to send a confidential email (after an Admin enables the feature):

  • Open a new message

  • Type your message and once you are ready to send

  • Click the time/lock icon at the bottom of the email to open the Confidential Mode dialogue box

  • Specify the expiration date

  • Specify if there is a password requirement

  • Hit Save

  • Send email

How to get started

Gmail confidential mode Beta is available as an opt-in to all G Suite customers and Google for Education users. Google Workspace Admins can opt-in to the beta by going to the Admin console and navigating to Apps > Google Workspace > Settings for Gmail > User settings. From there, they will have the option to activate the feature by selecting “Enable confidential mode” at the bottom of the box. (See below)

If you would like more information on Gmail settings, reach out today to find out how our Google for Education consultants and team can help your school district. If you’re interested in making sure your domain settings meet EDU Best-Practices, I suggest downloading a copy of our Top Google for Education Configuration Errors – especially if you haven’t recently had a Google Workspace domain Audit.

  • Kendal Shomura
    Google for Education Training Consultant

  • About the Author:

    Kendal Shomura joined the Amplified IT team in 2018 after 7 years working in Public Schools as an educator, Instructional Coach, Technology Integration Specialist, and as a Professor in Masters of Educational Technology program at Touro University. He spent 3 years as a Google Administrator while training staff on how to integrate Google Workspace tools into their classrooms. Kendal’s wide array of experiences with Educational Technology allows him to understand the important nuances of technology in schools. Today, he is a Google for Education Consultant who works to help schools better understand their Google environment and empowers them to configure Google Workspace in the most optimum way for student safety while still allowing for robust usage of the tools.