How do I unsend an email?

How do you unsend an email? Probably you can’t. Outlook had a thing that tried to do that but I don’t think it ever worked. Pretty much once an email goes, you’re done.

But if you are using Google Gmail with a web interface you have ten seconds to unsend an email. So if you are reading this blog post to unsend an email you have just sent, you better READ FAST.

You have to set it up first. Here’s how.

This works on desktop browsers, probably not on any mobile devices unless you have a pad that has convinced Google it is a desktop or laptop.

  • Go to your gmail page.
  • Click on the gear and go to settings.
  • sending_undo-01

  • Find “Labs” and click on that.
  • sending_undo-02

  • Find “Undo Send.” and enable it
  • sending_undo-03

  • Save the change.
  • sending_undo-04

  • Now there will be an “undo” option near the top of the browser window after you’ve sent a message. Click that to unsend
  • sending_undo-05
    Personally I’d like to see an option to give the undo send thing a longer period of time, that could be overridden on a message by message basis. I personally almost never have the desire to unsend a message, but when I do, I need more than ten seconds to realize it.

    Comments

    1. #1 Mark Hanna
      May 21, 2014

      I guess the problem with taking longer is that you’re not *really* unsending it. Gmail is just giving you a period in which to change your mind before it actually gets sent. If you want, for example, a 10 minute period in which to change your mind, then the email would take 10 minutes longer to actually get sent.

      Then again, I’m sure there are cases in which that could still be useful. Although I could just say “don’t click send until you’re really sure” I realise it’s not that simple, and having a constraint in place like this can be helpful.

    2. #2 G
      May 21, 2014

      Great, now how do I prevent Google Mail from scraping the contents of every email I send to someone who uses Google Mail, and adding it to their dossier of personal data associated with my outgoing email addresses (which are NOT on Google Mail)?

      And how do I prevent Google Voice from scraping the content of every phone call I make to someone who uses Google Voice, and subjecting said content to keyword recognition and “sentiment analysis” (emotion-reading)?

      GMAIL = Google Monitors All Incoming Letters.

      GVOICE = Google Vaccums Our Incoming Communications Everywhere.

      At least we can vote for NSA’s boss every four years. Can you vote for Google’s boss?

    3. #3 Erik Bray
      May 22, 2014

      Blah blah blah paranoia blah.

      The “unsend” thing seems useful though.

    4. #4 G
      May 22, 2014

      Erik: I call BS on you, and I dare you to keyword search “Google + privacy” and read up. The number of egregious examples is large enough to fill a book. Some have resulted in successful lawsuits and prosecutions.

    5. #5 Greg Laden
      May 22, 2014

      G: I guess I’ll look into that!?!?

    6. #6 anthrosciguy
      May 22, 2014

      Back in the day I managed to unsend a newsgroup post. I was using an ISP in Canada which was originally a huge BBS and connected to the internet proper through a gateway system which would connect with a slight delay, maybe a half hour to an hour. I was using an offline reader back then, as most people did, since always on internet was massively expensive. I had a fairly reasonably priced account which gave 10 hours a month, so offline readers were the thing back then.

      For those young ‘uns who never used these (next week I’ll explain how to use a dial phone) you’d download all the email and newsgroup stuff you were subscribed to and do your reading, writing (and hopefully editing) offline, then connect again and send it off. Well, one time I realized, maybe a minute after I’d sent it all off, that one of the things I’d written, intending it to be an email to one person, was instead done as a newsgroup post. Since it discussed one of the newsgroup participants and our reactions to that person it could be embarrassing for the person I was emailing. I immediately called the ISP and told the tech guy what had happened and asked if he could stop it being forwarded on to the internet. He couldn’t guarantee it would be in time but said he’d try. Had a bit of a nervous hour before finding the tech guy had managed to get to it in time.

    7. #7 TheBrummell
      Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
      May 22, 2014

      Interesting – thanks for the guide! Like you, I suspect the time interval for me to decide I’d rather not have sent that message will typically be longer than 10 seconds, but I can see this being a useful feature anyways. 10 seconds should be long enough to realize I accidentally sent an email to the wrong person, or a mass response when just a single recipient would be better.

      The breathalizer veto for eBay / Amazon / etc. that prevents drunk-shopping probably requires more than just a software change, though.

    8. #8 Greg Laden
      May 22, 2014

      Reminds me of Compuserve.

    9. #9 anthrosciguy
      May 23, 2014

      It was CRS, which was featured in the CBC’s famous (isn’t it?) 1993 news feature about that new internet thingy. A pretty good report for the time about stuff people mostly didn’t know about then. Interesting what 20 years will do.

      http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/science-technology/computers/inventing-the-internet-age/a-network-called-internet.html

    10. #10 Peter Smith
      June 5, 2014

      The corporate email system we used was called Memo, from the Swedish company, Verimation.
      It had two terrific features:
      1) you could see when the receiver had read his email and/or deleted it.
      2) you could delete the sent email at any time until the first person to read it had opened it. After that it was irrevocable.

      The knowledge that other people could see when you opened your email was a powerful incentive to be efficient and open incoming emails.
      Sadly, it is for IBM mainframe systems.