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Disappearing text messages unveiled

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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David Beckham suffered when his explicit text messages were published in tabloid newspapers.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It sounds like something only Tom Cruise would have access to in a "Mission Impossible" film, but thousands of British people are now sending self-destructing text messages.

A British-based company has developed software for telephones that deletes SMS messages about 40 seconds after they have been read.

Staellium UK told CNN that thousands of users had downloaded the software to their phones since it launched the "StealthText" technology Sunday.

It says the service is a world first.

Described by the company as a service for: "hedge fund managers, spooks and people with complicated lives," StealthTexts cost 50 pence (88 cents) to send, though users must sign up for at least 10 messages.

To download the service, users must text the word "stealth" to a number, and then download the software via a WAP connection.

Once they are signed up, the software creates a new text message inbox in the phone in an "undisclosed location," from which the self-destructing messages are sent.

When the message has been read, they disappear after about 40 seconds.

Staellium UK chief executive officer Carole Barnum told CNN the main aim of the service was to protect sensitive information.

"Business leaders are conveying information and communicating using mobile phones more and more and there is a need to protect sensitive information," she said.

"The technology behind StealthText is derived from military technology, so the comparisons with 'Mission Impossible' are justified."

Barnum said the company had been approached by financial services companies, the British Ministry of Defence and celebrity agents about the service.

One of the most high-profile victims of embarrassing texts was the England football captain David Beckham, who sent explicit messages to his personal assistant Rebecca Loos. They were published in the tabloid press in April 2004.

Barnum said some critics had concerns about preventing the messages being used as a method of bullying teenagers and children, but she said the service could be accessed only by people older than 18.

She said if anyone received malicious StealthTexts, they could block the sender or stop any StealthTexts from any sender being sent to their phone.

All messages would be stored and saved for at least six months on a secure server.

The company also plans to unveil self-destructing e-mails, digital photos and voice mail messages, when it presents its ideas at the 3GSM World Congress to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in February.

Barnum said the company had chosen to launch the service in the United Kingdom because it believed the country led the world in the wireless economy.

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