A hallmark of ``Mission: Impossible" was the message that would self-destruct after a spy played it. Now a start-up company promises that same level of secrecy with a Web-based messaging system designed to leave no traces.
The VaporStream system from Void Communications LLC is envisioned as a complement to e-mail and instant messaging, both of which leave abundant records.
Let's say Alice wants to discuss something privately with Bob. She calls up a VaporStream Web page, encrypted by the same method that secures Internet commerce and banking. Then she selects Bob on her list of chat partners.
That brings up a new window, where she can type a message. Neither her name nor Bob's appears anywhere. The individual messages cannot be copied or pasted into other programs.
When she sends the message, it no longer is visible on her computer. It goes to a server maintained by VaporStream, where it sits in a holding pattern in a temporary segment of the server's memory.
When Bob checks his VaporStream Web page, he can see that he has a message from Alice and clicks to read it. When it is delivered, it leaves the VaporStream server for good.
When Bob responds, Alice's original message disappears from his computer. Both parties have to remember their previous lines, making VaporStream more like a time-shifted phone conversation than an e-mail thread.
``Neither the sender nor the recipient has a full copy," said Amit Shah, the cofounder and chief technologist.
VaporStream is scheduled to be unveiled at the DEMOfall tech show in San Diego tomorrow and to be available in October.
Shah and cofounder Joseph Collins Jr. hope that VaporStream's design and low cost, $40 per user annually, will attract companies swamped with the challenge of archiving business-critical e-mails and deleting those that are personal or inconsequential.
A company could tell employees to do all informal communications in VaporStream, for example. VaporStream will also be available for mobile gadgets such as BlackBerrys.
That's not to say that this is a natural for the business world. Financial services firms are likely to reject VaporStream because of regulatory requirements governing the retention of their electronic communications.