Handling personal information with care in Gmail

With many countries and regions around the world all adopting their own Privacy regulation it is increasingly important to think before we share information with others. GDPR and PDPA are just some of the examples of how these new rules impact our schools and how we handle staff, student, and parent data.

Without going into the specifics or GDPR and PDPA, it is important to note that communication and sharing information with colleagues is also part of this regulation. It’s important to examine how communication takes place and information is shared.

Focus on not keeping information for a period longer than what’s required.

In addition to this, it’s vital consent is obtained whenever sensitive data is stored. However, that dives into the regulation rather than what we, as everyday teachers can implement. (Let’s discuss the school implications of GDPR and PDPA in a future post)

The first step would be to thinks carefully about the need to share information. If information is not essential to share via email, its better we don’t. When in doubt, its better not to share.

If you do have to email a teacher with sensitive information, for example; when planning a residential trip, you have to inform co-teachers about the medical condition or needs for medication of a particular child. Then we can use Gmail to help us facilitate communicating this confidential information.

As demonstrated in the video and blog post on confidential emails when the Gmail feature became a public Beta, we can use confidential mode to send email that expire and block the user from forwarding the message.

Using Confidential mode in Gmail

To use the confidential mode in Gmail start composing your email as you would otherwise. Click on the compose button and type up the information. (When emailing multiple people use BCC to ensure their email addresses are not visible to others. This protects email addresses from being shared without consent)

Compose a new email in Gmail

Once you are in your compose window, you will find the ‘Confidential mode’ button at the bottom.

The confidential mode icon in Gmail

This will open up the confidential mode settings, where you can set the expiry date(1) for the email and require the user to receive a one time passcode(2) on their mobile phone number in order to open the email.
(OTP or One Time Passwords are generated by Google and sent to the number provided.

Note: Passcode is only supported in some countries.

Confidential mode settings for Gmail

When email is set up as confidential email you see the following notice at the bottom.

Confidential mode enabled notice in Gmail

Go ahead and send your email to the recipient selected. They will see that same notice at the bottom when opening the email and will not be able to forward this email.

Recipient view of a confidential mode email.

If they click on the print button to print this email, they will see an altered version of the email which masks the information shared.

Print view of a confidential email in Gmail (masked information)

I hope this helps you to ensure all your email traffic is protected and you keep students safe, whilst staying compliant with GDPR an d PDPA.

For a video walk-through on how to activate/use the confidentiality email see this older blog with tutorial. How to use Confidential mode in Gmail or watch the 2021 version at the bottom of this Blog post.

Supported countries for OTP

At the moment, you can only add SMS passcodes for phone numbers from these regions: 

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Australia
  • Asia: India, Korea and Japan

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