Remove an attachment

“Have you ever seen Mission Impossible, the film? Do you remember in the beginning he gets his mission and then it blows up after a few seconds? We do exactly the same thing but with digital documents.”

This is howClement Cazalot, the CEO and co-founder of docTrackr, gets to describe his company’s service, which is available to the general public starting today. From his computer, he sent me an e-mail with a PDF document attached. I looked at the document, which took a few seconds to load, and closed it. Then he hit the self-destruct button from his laptop on the other side of the country. A message came up when I tried to re-open the document: I could no longer view the PDF; it had been disabled.

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Behind the scenes what happens with his startup’s service is that the PDF document goes to an Amazon cloud server, in the United States or Europe, depending on where the sender is located. When the recipient opens the attachment, they are actually accessing an encrypted document from that cloud server. That process gives the sender the power to zap the document after sending it, as well as control whether someone can edit or print the document.

For the past two years, docTrackr has limited its service to paying professional clients. These include health care companies, the aerospace industry, and SNCF, the French railroad company. Lawyers, accountants and other professional services firms, as well as salespeople, are other key clients. The 15-person firm has raised $2 million in initial investment funds.

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Giving away their services for free will not immediately benefit the company, but Cazalot said revelations of U.S. government spying on Internet traffic and other communications earlier this year outraged him.

“The whole company was shocked at how things are happening in the U.S., seeing that people cannot trust providers like Google that”s why we decided to give away the technology to democratize the tools,” he says.

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The service also allows the email sender to track when and how the recipient has accessed the document.For now, the consumer product works only for PDF documents (an enterprise edition can do the same tricks for Microsoft , Excel and other document formats) sent via Gmail, and must bedownloaded as a Chrome extension. “We’re trying to add this additional layer on services that are not made to be secure,” Cazalot said in explaining why they turned first to Gmail.The company plans to have an Outlook version byFebruary.

Cazalot, who is French but based in Cambridge, Mass., says his company is not trying to creep people out, just giving the sender an ability to manage the document flow.“We are not a ‘Big Brother’ company aiming at horrible NSA-like control on documents,” he said. “It is really in order to help the security of communications.”

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I am a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and author of “What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big…

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I am a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and author of “What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business — and the End of Privacy as We Know It.” I am now researching the business of medical data. Please send story ideas and your experiences in the world of personal data to: book (at) On Twitter, follow me at DataCurtain.

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