Make Blind Carbon Copy Your Friend

One of my personal pet peeves is when people email a large group of people and don’t use the Blind Carbon Copy function in their email client. I’ve never ranted about it properly in public before, but I can’t do any better than my buddy Wes Salmon did over here at his blog a few years back. I liked his description so much I used it in a college class that I taught for two semesters. Here’s the tasty excerpt for the time-challenged among you:

“It was at this point that I realized that email has for me at least, become the modern day technological version of herpes. If the email version of a condom had been used, also known as the Bcc field, I would be ok but it wasn’t used and I had no way of forcing it anyway…If they were to practice unsafe Internet usage, and let’s face it most people do, chances are good that they would get some sort of virus or trojan that would grab all the email addresses out of their inbox and begin to do terrible things with them. Not only could I now start getting spam because of this message, I could also have my address used to forge other spam and viruses as more recent versions of these tools have resorted to doing. So welcome to the technology of the future, binary herpes that most people don’t even know they are spreading.”

Wes nailed it dead-on: unprotected, mass-email, is like an STD. I’ve posted before about how it’s sometimes hard to find the BCC function, but I really think that software developers need to get it through their skulls that people are sometimes not very smart (myself included here) and we need some help. What can be done? A simple check should be done on any outgoing email, and if there’s more than, say, a dozen people in the CC or TO field, a polite and friendly warning should pop up in the email client (or Web site) that would encourage the user to use the Blind Carbon Copy field – and a simple one-click of the “Yes” button would do it for the user, moving all the email addresses to the BCC field. Clicking “Yes” would also turn on BCC if it isn’t already active. One part education for future uses, and one part practicality in allowing the user to not have to re-do any of their work.

Microsoft? Google? Yahoo? Time to wake up and bring some practicality to this situation – it’s been ignored for too long. Quite often, especially where business emails are involved, I’ve found that the person sending the email knows they should use BCC, but they simply forget. We need software that would remind them, and allow a one-click fix.

The trigger for this blog posting was two separate emails today that I received from PR and marketing “professionals” where in both cases my email address was in the CC line along with hundreds and hundreds of others. Not only it is a violation of my privacy – I didn’t give these marketing people my permission for them to share my email address with hundreds of others – but it’s also exposing me to all sorts of potential spam. I see this at least half a dozen times a month, and in more than one case I’ve suddenly started receiving news updates from random blogs after it happens. When I questioned how they found my email address, these blog owners sheepishly explained that they used all of the email addresses they found as a basis for their email list.

If you’re reading this blog, odds are high that you’re probably amongst the top 1% of Internet users – please, do the world a favour and teach your friends and family about how, and when, to use BCC. Until the software developers making email software and Web sites take some responsibility for this, user education is our only option.

  • It’s ironic that you posted this today because I received an e-mail this afternoon which had 132 recipients in the To: field and another 93 in the CC field. In this case the sender is someone it would be politically unwise for someone at my level to suggest e-mail etiquette. I should print a copy of your and Wes’ blog posts and send it anonymously via campus mail to his office…

  • That’s a good idea – except that you’d have to delete your comment here in case he comes and looks and sees your comment. 😉

  • I agree that BCC is a concept more people should use, however there are times when BCC simply isn’t appropriate, especially when dealing with people who aren’t too organized when it comes to their address books.

    Here’s an example. At work I am probably one of the a VERY small number of Graduate Assistants that uses Outlook. Even though Toledo provides Exchange email to every faculty member and student, most people still rely on hotmail, aol, etc.. for their personal mail (heck, my exchange mailbox there works but it forwards to my own exchange server…), so using OWA’s address book is not always best to get valid email addresses – the person may only check that mailbox once a month or so.

    So we heavily rely on “Reply to All” to make sure people actually get email at boxes they check. This requires us to not use BCC to make sure that certain groups / teams are able to communicate. It all works fine until someone lets an internal email slip out to the internet – then spamgates open wide.

    The only real solution to this would be extensive implementation of grouplists or aliases pointing to multiple addresses (Similar to what we do with the [email protected] alias at PPCT). However again this would require a diligent admin to keep the address aliases current.

    So my point is this: BCC is great when you’re sending out to large amounts of people and those people never need to, or should, communicate with each other. However, when those people need to communicate with each other and need to use “Reply to All” for it’s legitimate uses (e.g. not sending out notices that your grand-daughter is selling cookies), BCC simply isn’t an option.

  • Re-reading my comment (always a great thing to do after hitting Submit.. ugh..) I guess I should sum it in 1 sentence – I agree that education is needed to inform users when to hit “Reply”, “Reply to All”, and when to use CC / BCC appropriately! Too bad one rule doesn’t fit all!

  • Some good thoughts Jon! BCC is best used when you email large groups of people that don’t know each other or there’s no reason for them to reply to your email and loop each other in. It sounds like in your example everyone knows each other, all being part of the same “team”, so using CC makes sense. The examples I talked about are mass email from one strange to a bunch of other strangers…so CC is completely the wrong thing to do. 🙁

  • chrisgohlke

    I’ve had friends and family who cc their whole address book on warnings that are really hoaxes that they are not swift enough to get. So, I started replying to all telling them why they are wrong and pointing them to snopes or some other source. Two possible positive outcomes, either they stop sending you these without verifying them first or at least they start using BCC.