How to use confidential mode in Gmail to protect sensitive information

Gmail is used by millions of people around the world. As of July, 28.13% of people use Gmail as their primary email client. I count myself in that number (Gmail alone is far from the only account I use) and I actually rely on Gmail for work-related communication.

I regularly have to send confidential information to others. While I prefer to take advantage of the GPG encryption found in Thunderbird, I don’t always have that option…especially when using Gmail.

However, a few years ago, Google added a nice feature to Gmail called Confidential Mode that helps protect sensitive information from authorized access. With Confidential Mode, you can set an expiration date and password for messages, and even revoke access at any time you choose. And when a recipient receives a confidential message, they can’t forward, copy, print, or download the message.

Also: How to Change Gmail Inbox Layout and Why You Might Want to Do It

The only caveat of confidential mode is that there is no way to prevent users from taking screenshots of those confidential emails and then sending those images to other people. So it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

How to use confidential mode? Let me teach you.


All you need to use Confidential Mode is a Gmail account in the web-based Gmail client or mobile app (works on Android and iOS). I’m going to demonstrate the use of the web-based client, which works in almost any web browser, but the email client works in a similar way.

With that said, let’s be confidential.

How to send an email in confidential mode

1. Open Gmail

Open your web browser, go to Gmail and sign in.

2. Compose an email

Click Compose to open the Gmail compose window. At the bottom of that window, click the lock and clock icon (Figure 1).

The Gmail compose window.

Figure 1: The confidential mode icon is the third from the right.

Image: Jack Wallen

3. Configure Confidential Mode Settings

In the resulting popup (Figure 2), click the Expiration dropdown menu and select one day, one week, one month, three months, or five years.

Gmail Confidential Mode Settings.

Figure 2: Configuring confidential mode settings for this email.

Image: Jack Wallen

If you want to add a passcode, click SMS Passcode and click Save, which will return you to the Compose window.

4. Compose and send your email

Compose the email as you normally would, and then click Send. This will open another popup window (figure 3), where you will be prompted to enter a phone number for the recipient.

SMS phone number popup for confidential mode.

Figure 3: Add a phone number for a recipient so they can retrieve the message.

Image: Jack Wallen

Click Send and your email will do its job. The recipient will receive an email with a link to view your content. When they click the link, a new web browser page will open where they must click a link to receive the access code. Once they have the access code, they enter it into the browser popup and click SEND, and then they can see the message.

No matter what type of email account you send the message to in confidential mode, the recipient will need to open it in a web browser and the content will be displayed as such (Figure 4) that they can’t do anything with it other than read it (or take a screenshot, as I explained above).

An example of email in confidential mode.

Figure 4: A test email that I sent in confidential mode.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that’s all there is to using Gmail’s Confidential Mode. Consider using this feature for missives that include sensitive information, so they don’t end up in the wrong hands.

Jack Wallen: Here’s how…

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