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METHOD FOR INCLUDING A SELF-
REMOVING INDICATOR IN A SELF-
This application is a continuation-in-part of commonly owned copending application Ser. No. 09/399,066 filed Sep. 18, 1999, now pending, through which this application also claims priority to application Ser. No. 60/101,517 filed Sep. 23, 1998 and to application Ser. No. 60/104,138 filed Oct. 14, 1998.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to the technical goal of facilitating the use of email (electronic mail) and similar broadcast or targeted transmission mechanisms by automatically deleting information copies after their receipt.
TECHNICAL BACKGROUND OF THE
Email is a very useful tool for promoting communication between people who are separated by distance, by different working hours, or both. However, email is sometimes inconvenient for recipients. This hinders the use of email as a mechanism for broad-casting information to many people and/or transmitting information to one or a few specific targets.
Email creates annoyances which have not been fully addressed. One common source of annoyance is "spam" email, namely, unsolicited email sent to multiple recipients. Unlike passive advertising, such as pop-up and banner ads on websites, and ads in more traditional print, radio, or television media, "spam" email seeks out its audience, and thrusts itself into the viewer's field of attention without being invited. This can be very annoying because it interrupts other activities, consumes system resources, and perhaps most importantly, requires active efforts by recipients who want to dispose of these unwanted messages. An email recipient may delete unwanted messages manually by using an email Delete command in an email client (e.g., a desktop application program, or web mail pages in a web browser), by dragging the messages in question to a trash can, or by similar steps.
Some email systems provide filters that detect at least some incoming unsolicited email and either deletes it or, more typically, places it in a directory or folder reserved for such messages. But filters sometimes err, either by characterizing as unsolicited email a message that is not, or by failing to detect unsolicited email and letting it through with the normal correspondence from familiar senders. Thus, it would be helpful to provide some alternate or additional means for disposing of unsolicited email.
Some unsolicited email includes a statement that sending a reply with "REMOVE" in the subject field will remove the recipient from the mailing list. It has been alleged, however, that any reply to some such unsolicited email will simply confirm that the address to which the unsolicited mail was sent is "good" (meaning someone actually looked at the unsolicited email) and that a reply asking to be removed from the mailing list may therefore have an effect opposite from the intended effect. If this is so, then only addresses from which no reply is received would have a chance of being removed from the list.
Moreover, even some mail which is unsolicited is of interest to the recipient only for a limited time. For instance,
the fact that a recipient has voluntarily subscribed to an electronic newsletter, a news service, or a listserv list does not necessarily mean that the recipient wants to keep every message from that subscription after reading it. Indeed,
5 despite having subscribed to the service, the recipient may not even want to read each and every message from the subscription service.
Television and radio "spots" which broadcast an advertisement without taking up storage space on the receiver
1° (televisions and radios generally lack permanent storage such as hard disks) are known, although this characterization of them as not requiring recipient storage resources and proactive deletion by the recipient may be new.
Accordingly, it would be an advancement to provide an
15 improved approach to email and similar messaging which moves the email message disposal burden off the shoulders of the recipient. In particular and without limitation, it would be an advance to make public notices and news sent through email less onerous to recipients, and likewise to make email
20 advertisements (including without limitation coupons, contact information, descriptions of goods and/or services, comparisons, and promotional materials) available to multiple recipients without requiring that recipients affirmatively remove unwanted advertisements from their computer
25 systems or create a reply message having REMOVE or another keyword in the subject, to indicate their lack of interest in the subject matter being advertised.
Such approaches for improved email messaging are disclosed and claimed herein.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to methods, articles, signals, and systems for self-removing email messages. Self
35 removal of email (or other transmitted digital information presentations) can provide at least two advantages. First, self-removing email can be used to enhance the security of a system by reducing the number of message copies and the life span of those copies. Second, self-removing email can
4Q be used to reduce the inconvenience of unsolicited email by making it possible for officials, advertisers, and other broadcast email originators to present messages that do not have to be manually removed by the target audience. A given method, article, signal, or system may use self-removing
45 email to enhance message security, to reduce recipient annoyance, or both.
In some embodiments, self-removing email messages are encrypted with conventional tools and techniques. To further enhance security, a message is closely coupled to executable
5q code which reduces the number of copies of the message. Some versions of the code allow any given copy of the message to be viewed at most once.
In some embodiments, self-removing email messages contain advertisements, but the invention may also be used
55 to broadcast or otherwise transmit self-removing email messages which contain other materials that, at least by default, are not stored long-term on the recipient's hard disk or on other intervening nodes (the self-removal action may sometimes be expressly overridden). For instance, news
60 items, confidential materials, and other materials directed to a limited audience such as public notices (changes in the law, election results, tax auction notices, public hearing announcements, and so on), private club notices, and materials intended for mature audiences, may also be transmitted
65 in self-removing email messages.
Unlike traditional email, self-removing email places the burden of selecting messages for removal and then removing
them on the software and on the message originator, instead of on the message recipient. "Spam" advertising methods become much less onerous to recipients if the email carrying the advertisements is as effortlessly ephemeral (from the recipient's point of view) as a television or radio commer- 5 cial. Other aspects and advantages of the present invention will become more fully apparent through the following description.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS 10
To illustrate the manner in which the advantages and features of the invention are obtained, a more particular description of the invention will be given with reference to the attached drawings. These drawings only illustrate selected aspects of the invention and thus do not limit the 15 invention's scope. In the drawings:
FIG. 1 is a diagram illustrating computers and computer networks suitable for use according to the invention by means of configuration with special-purpose hardware and/ or software described herein. 20
FIG. 2 is a data flow diagram illustrating a method, signal, and environment using self-removing messages to carry messages from an originator through a network to one or more recipients. 25
FIG. 3 is a data flow diagram further illustrating embodiments of the invention used to increase recipient convenience, and also further illustrating removal indicators and removal code shown in FIG. 2.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE 30
In describing methods, devices, and systems according to the invention, the meaning of several important terms is clarified, so the claims must be read with careful attention to 35 these clarifications. Specific examples are given to illustrate aspects of the invention, but those of skill in the relevant art(s) will understand that other examples may also fall within the meaning of the terms used, and hence within the scope of one or more claims. Important terms are defined, 40 either explicitly or implicitly, both here in the Detailed Description and elsewhere in the application file. Computers, Networks
The invention may be used to protect and/or ultimately remove email messages from an individual computer or 45 from one or more computers in a network, including copies of messages stored on removable media or transmitted over a network link and stored on intermediate nodes. FIG. 1 illustrates a system 100 having several computers and several networks 102,104,116 which can be configured accord- 50 ing to the invention, but those of skill in the art will understand that suitable computer networks include various networks, such as local area networks, wide area networks, metropolitan area networks, and/or various "Internet" or IP networks such as the World Wide Web, a private Internet, a 55 secure Internet, a value-added network, a virtual private network, an extranet, or an intranet.
The system 100 shown as an example in FIG. 1 includes two local area networks 102, 104. Each network 102, 104 includes at least one computer 106, and each computer 106 60 includes at least a processor and a memory; computers 106 also include various input devices and/or output devices. The processor may include a general purpose device such as a 80x86, Pentium (mark of Intel), 680x0, or other "off-theshelf" microprocessor. The processor may include a special 65 purpose processing device such as an ASIC, PAL, PLA, PLD, or other customized or programmable device. The
memory may include static RAM, dynamic RAM, flash memory, ROM, CD-ROM, disk, tape, magnetic, optical, or another computer storage medium. The input device(s) may include a keyboard, mouse, touch screen, light pen, tablet, microphone, position sensor, pressure sensor, thermal sensor, or other input hardware with accompanying firmware and/or software. The output device(s) may include a monitor or other display, printer, speech or text synthesizer, solenoid, switch, signal line, or other process controller.
The network 102, which is also by itself one of the many networks suitable for use with the invention, includes a server 108 and several clients 110. Other suitable networks may contain other combinations of servers, clients, and/or peer-to-peer nodes, and a given computer may function both as a client and as a server. For instance, network 104 is a peer-to-peer network. The computers 106 connected by a suitable network may be work-stations, laptop computers 112, disconnectable mobile computers, servers, mainframes, clusters, network computers or lean clients, personal digital assistants or hand-held computing devices 114, or a combination thereof.
A local network such as network 102 or network 104 may include communications or networking software such as the software available from Novell, Microsoft, Artisoft, and other vendors. A larger network such as the network 100, may combine smaller network(s) and/or devices such as routers and bridges 116. Large or small, the networks may operate using TCP/IP, SPX, IPX, and other protocols over twisted pair, coaxial, or optical fiber cables, telephone lines, satellites, microwave relays, modulated AC power lines, physical media transfer, and/or other data carrying transmission "wires" 118 known to those of skill in the art; for convenience "wires" includes infrared, radio frequency, and other wireless links or connections. Like the network 100, a suitable network may encompass smaller networks. Alternatively, or in addition, a suitable network may be connectable to other networks through a gateway or similar mechanism.
At least one of the computers 106 is capable of using a floppy drive, tape drive, optical drive, magneto-optical drive, or other means to read a storage medium 120. A suitable storage medium 120 includes a magnetic, optical, or other computer-readable storage device having a specific physical configuration. Suitable storage devices include floppy disks, hard disks, tape, CD-ROMs, PROMs, random access memory, flash memory, and other computer system storage devices. The physical configuration represents data and instructions which cause the computer system to operate in a specific and predefined manner as described herein. Thus, the medium 120 tangibly embodies a program, functions, and/or instructions that are executable by computer(s) to protect and/or delete email message contents substantially as described herein.
Suitable software languages and tools to assist in implementing the various devices, signals, systems, and methods of the invention are readily employed by those of skill in the pertinent art(s) using the teachings presented here and programming languages and tools such as Java, Pascal, C++, C, Perl, database languages, APIs, various system level SDKs, assembly, firmware, microcode, and/or other languages and tools.
Personal Messaging with Self-Removing Messages
FIG. 2 illustrates a method and environment using selfremoving messages to carry messages from an originator 200 at some origin to one or a few recipients 202. As used here, "a few" means less than ten recipients, or alternatively, a small number of recipients who are personally known to
the originator; news items, notices, advertisements and/or other messages directed to more than a few recipients are discussed elsewhere herein, although many of the tools and techniques taught herein apply regardless of whether there are only a few recipients. 5
During a creating step 204 the originator 200 creates a self-removing message 206 using software and hardware configured by the software, or using custom hardware alone, according to the teachings herein. This may be done generally in accordance with familiar tools and techniques for io email messaging, attaching files, embedding graphics, encrypting data, and/or compressing data, but it must associate code and/or hardware 208, and/or indicators 210, with the message 206 to perform or facilitate the self-removal message management functions described here. That is, the 15 originator 200 (or equivalently, an embodiment under the originator's direction) marks the message 206 at the origin, includes removal code 208 in the message 206, or does both. The code 208 may be embedded solely in the message 206, but it may also be embedded in plug-ins, modules, routines, 20 objects, threads, or other forms in an ISP's transmission program 224 and/or a recipient's browser or email reception program 226, or the code 208 may be divided between one or more such locations. Code and/or hardware 208, and indicators 210, are collectively termed "self-removal 25 enhancements" herein.
In addition to the message self-removal code 208 in the message 206 and/or elsewhere, the message 206 often includes one or more self-removal indicators 210 such as bitflags, header values, file name extensions, or other data 30 marking the message 206, thereby identifying the entire message 206 or a portion thereof to the removal code 208 and distinguishing the message 206 from messages which are not subject to removal by the means taught herein. Of course, in a system where all messages are entirely self- 35 removing, the indicators 210 are optional unless they are needed to detail information such as how long to display the message contents to the recipient, whether to allow recipients to scroll back through a previously displayed portion of the message contents, and so on. However, batch files, 40 message handling rules, and other deletion controls that are provided by the recipient 202 are not indicators 210, since they do not give originators 200 and/or distributors 222 the responsibility for, and the initial control over, removal of messages at the recipient's location. 45
In embodiments preferred for this present application, the originator 200 or an embodiment under the originator's direction marks the message 206 at the origin with one or more indicators 210 to facilitate the self-removal message management functions described here. In these 50 embodiments, removal code 208 is not included in the message 206. Instead, removal code 208 is embedded in plug-ins, modules, routines, objects, threads, or other forms in a recipient's browser or email reception program 226. However, the initial decision to make a given message be 55 self-removing still rests with the originator 200 (or with an ISP 222), rather than making the recipient 202 actively delete the message.
In these presently preferred embodiments, self-removal indicators 210 in a given email message 206 permit the 60 originator 200 and/or an intermediate node 220 to indicate to the removal code 208 one or more of the following options:
(a) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox shortly after being opened by that recipient, e.g., delete 65 the message approximately five minutes after it is opened;
(b) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox no later than a specified time after being opened by that recipient, and may be deleted before that specified time, e.g., delete the message within 24 hours of receiving it;
(c) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox no sooner than a specified time after being opened by that recipient, and may be deleted any time after that specified time, e.g., give the recipient 24 hours to make copies, reply, forward the message or otherwise react to the message 206, but delete it after that specified time has elapsed;
(d) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox no sooner than a first specified time after being opened by that recipient, and no later than a second specified time after being opened, e.g., delete the message within one to seven days of receiving it;
(e) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox no later than a specified time after being received, regardless of whether it has been opened by that recipient;
(f) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox no sooner than a specified time after being received, regardless of whether it has been opened by that recipient;
(g) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox between a first and second specified time after being received, regardless of whether it has been opened by that recipient;
(h) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 according to some combination of chronological and/or "has been opened" criteria generally as discussed above, but the chronological criterion is a fixed time or date, rather than an elapsed time, e.g., delete the message 206 no later than Jul. 4, 2001 regardless of whether it has been opened by that date;
(i) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 according to some combination of chronological and/or "has been opened" criteria generally as discussed above, but instead of deleting the message only if it has been opened, or deleting it regardless of whether it has been opened, delete the message only if it has not been opened, e.g., if the recipient doesn't bother to open the message 206 because the subject line indicates it is an unwanted solicitation, then the message will be deleted automatically approximately one week after it was received;
(j) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox, after it has been opened, when a specified storage limitation is reached, e.g., too many messages or too much storage used for messages; (k) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox when a specified storage limitation is reached, regardless of whether it has been opened by that recipient; (1) the message 206 is to be deleted automatically by the removal code 208 from each recipient's mailbox/inbox when the next message is received from the same source, regardless of whether the first message from