Invisible ink comes to the iPhone

In the wake of the Tiger Woods scandals, a new iPhone app named TigerText allows you to send and receive text messages which can’t be traced later on. Or at least that’s how the story goes, but that story isn’t quite accurate.

The app doesn’t actually involve sending SMS messages over the phone network. Instead, the messages are sent exclusively through the app itself, meaning both the sender and recipient must install the software to get them. (The app itself is free and includes up to 100 messages in the first 15 days. After that the sender pays $1.50 for 250 messages or $2.50 for unlimited messaging.)

Of course, adulterous spouses could buy a package of messages for their secret lover, though whether that will be seen as a sweeping romantic gesture may be open to question.

The message never actually exists as such on the recipient’s phone. Instead, it is stored on the servers of the company running the service. They automatically wipe it after a time set by the sender, ranging from one minute to five days. After, this it becomes completely inaccessible, so if either the sender or the recipient wants to look back longingly at it later, they’ll have to take a photograph of the screen.

The theory is that even if it’s by legal action, the company would be unable to hand over any details of messages as the records would no longer exist. It does keep call records (who sent a message to who and at what time) by default, though these can also be set to be automatically wiped.

It’ll be interesting to see how this theory is tested in the event that people use the app to cover crimes of more interest than adultery to the authorities. Certainly an ISP that took a similar approach to e-mails wouldn’t find itself too popular with the security services.

The creator of the app told Time that the name of the app had been chosen before the Woods stories broke and that it is just coincidental. (He doesn’t explain where the name did come from, though a company FAQ says it is because tigers are difficult to track and also that it launches in the Chinese year of the tiger.)

He also explains that the motivation of the app is to increase privacy and allow users more leeway when they text something they later regret and would prefer there was no record.

Android and BlackBerry editions are in the works.

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