On February 13, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals new techniques for generating and using disposable email addresses. Apple notes that "some reports have claimed that spam email accounts for 90% of all email, with trillions of spam emails being sent." Although numerous approaches to stopping spam email from reaching consumer's inbox have been tried in the past with varying degrees of success, spam continues to be a problem for many people. Apple's invention is out to change that.
Apple's Patent Background
Email has become ubiquitous, and email addresses are requested often as postal addresses. When consumers use shopping websites to order goods or services, those websites typically request the consumer's email address to allow communication with the user about the order. Even paper forms filled out with pen and ink often request email addresses.
With the increased usage and importance of email also came, unfortunately, misuse of email addresses to send undesirable commercial email in bulk, the "junk mail" of the electronic world, often referred to as "spam." Some reports have claimed that spam email accounts for 90% of all email, with trillions of spam emails being sent. Numerous approaches to stopping spam email from reaching the inbox of consumers have been tried, with varying degrees of success. But spam continues to be a problem for many people.
One class of techniques that has been tried in the past has involved the creation of what are known as "disposable email addresses." Ordinary email addresses are often used for many years, and changing one's email address may require notifying numerous people and business entities, to avoid losing contact with friends or businesses, some of which may use email for important communications such as billing. The U.S. Postal Service provides a Change of Address form that allows temporary forwarding of postal mail to a new address. Although individual email servers may provide for forwarding emails from one address to another, those are often unavailable to someone who no longer has a business relationship with the former email provider. There is no central registry to allow even temporary automatic rerouting of email from an old email address to a new email address. So changing an email address can be painful.
Disposable email addresses are typically created so that email to the disposable email address is automatically forwarded to a non-disposable email address. The disposable email address thus hides the non-disposable email address from those to whom the disposable email address is given. Disposable email addresses are generally intended to have limited lifespans. Should the address be abused, such as by being included in a spam email campaign, the disposable email address can be deleted, without interfering with the consumer's normal email address. This avoids the need to create a new email address for regular use by consumer, as well as the need to inform the consumer's correspondents of the new address.
However, disposable email address systems are typically cumbersome to use, and may require obtaining the email address from a source other than the user's usual email provider. The result is that usage of disposable email addresses is very low. In addition, the disposable email address is often recognizable as being a disposable address. Some places that request email addresses when signing up for a service are known to analyze the email address and refuse to accept disposable email addresses. Should the user receive an email originally sent to the disposable address and forwarded to the non-disposable address, replies to that email generally get sent using the non-disposable address, thus exposing the non-disposable address for potential misuse.
In addition, if an email address (disposable or non-disposable) is given to multiple correspondents, one of which misuses the address or makes the address available to someone else that misuses it, there is generally no way to determine which of the multiple correspondents is responsible when the consumer starts getting a flood of spam sent to the email address.
Apple's invention relates to an integrated system that will allow the user to easily create and use disposable email addresses. The disposable email address is created by an email server, which manages correspondence using the disposable email address to avoid exposing the associated non-disposable email address. Context information may be associated with a disposable email address, where the context information is not visible in email sent using the disposable email address. Should the disposable address be misused, the associated context may allow a user to recognize what correspondent exposed the disposable address to misuse.
Apple credits Apple's manager of HID Firmware Prototyping Dan Fletcher along with Cameron Esfahani, Carl Norum, James Murphy, Santo Sapienza, Shachar Ron and Stanley Rabu as the inventors of patent application 20140047043 which was originally filed in Q3 2012.
Another patent application published today by the US Patent Office that may be of interest to some is one titled "Single-Chip Multi-Stimulus Sensor Controller."
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