Unsending an Email
posted by Daniel Solove
Most of us have done it.
Instead of hitting “reply” to an e-mail, we accidentally push “reply all,” sending a potentially embarrassing or insulting message to those we didn’t intend to see it.
To address this problem, Google Inc.’s Gmail Labs has launched an experimental feature called “Undo Send” that gives users a chance to rewrite their message, correct settings or simply fix typos.
When a Gmail user who enables this feature sends an e-mail, a button that says “Undo” will pop up on their screen for five seconds. If the user hits the button within that time, the service will retrieve the e-mail in draft form — allowing the user to make changes or cancel the message altogether.
I assume that this service works by delaying sending out an email after the user hits the send button. Suppose that Google offered a different service, one that allowed users to edit or delete emails sent after being received by recipients. Currently, I don’t think it would be possible within the technical architecture of email systems, but I wonder whether there’s a way it could be possible and/or legal. Would such a service be desirable? It would certainly be so for senders, who may want to zap the existence of emails they later came to regret. But what about the recipients, who would suddenly see emails vanish from their inboxes or change in content?