a note on email privacy

I hear all this talk about Facebook, social networking, and privacy, and it makes me chortle. Facebook might be a little bit evil, but we have been violating each other’s privacy like crazy, ever since Al Gore invented the Internets by funding the first tubes. And by we I don’t mean me: I learned better at about the same time I got my first disc from AOL, long long ago.

Spammers, scammers, virus spewers and hackers don’t care what you did over the weekend. They don’t want your recipe for rutabagas flambé. They just want your email address and your name. Facebook does not give that out. But we – not me – are happily sharing it with criminals by the ton, all day long. 

The truth is, I don’t mind getting a few funny or deep or generally trivial emails now and then. Internet banality kinda brightens my day. Or it makes me pause and ponder, whatever. I like to share it sometimes too. So I’m not saying stop, but there is a concern.

When you put more than one email address in the To field of your email and send it, everyone sees each other’s name and email address.
So if you send me a joke and also send it to your cousin Sally, I can see her name and address and she sees mine. But we’ve never met, and one or both of us might not appreciate that. We trusted you with our contact information.

If I forward that email to the guys in my Metaphysical Bungee Jump Club, they all get Sally’s name and email too. Did she tell you that it was OK for us to do that?

When that joke is then forwarded to more strangers, Sally’s email address gets spewed around the planet like crazy. See?

That’s why we receive emails with dozens or hundreds of names and email addresses in them. No wonder we get so much spam. We’re sending each others addresses to spammers, by the billions.

I think people should be able to decide who they want to have their email address.I think I should be able to give a friend my email address, or my phone number, shoe size, whatever, and expect and trust them not to broadcast it publically.

This is basic email etiquette, as much common knowledge as not openly sneezing on other citizens. You cover your mouth when you sneeze, and you hide multiple email addresses in the BCC field of the email form.

“We’ve all had this happen to us and it’s not O.K. Each day we receive messages or forwarded email from well intentioned onliners listing all those they are sending to in the To: field. And by doing so they are visibly displaying their contact’s email addresses to strangers!
If you do this and are thinking “no big deal” you are so wrong! If the only thing all the folks you are sending to have in common is you, you have breached your contact’s privacy by publicizing their emails to people they don’t know. Talk about showing a complete disregard for their privacy not to mention your lack of tech savvy!” [Link]

It’s easy to learn how to use BCC. Here’s a bunch of links on Google. Basically, you just put all the addresses in BCC instead of To.

One more thing.

If you get an email with a bunch of other people’s emails in it, clean it up before you forward it.
Just start the new email, highlight all the junk with your mouse, and press Delete, then send it.

If pressing Delete removes some or all of the good stuff you wanted to share, then the message is probably built in a table or a frame of some kind. That’s another topic, for another day in the new wild west.

4 thoughts on “a note on email privacy

  1. When I got hate-filled political e-mails — you know the ones — they were sent with strings of e-mail addresses. I responded to everyone, even those down the string of e-mails, whose addresses were conveniently left in the e-mail to me.I was not liked by many right-wingers.

  2. Thanks Joseph and Jess, for your comments. I'll definitely give the ISP email question some thought. I know why I gave them up, and there may be better reasons. Jess, I'm sorry, but that's not possible. There has to be a reason for mass forwarders to do it, and calling them on the fact that that they're not sharing anything of themselves that's real just conflicts with their self-concept. I've sat down a thousand times to try it. I start with "I love you and I want to stay in touch, but I get a hundred emails a day, and I've seen these same jokes since 1995." Then I hit delete because I know they'll hear something else. You could try posting a netiquette rant on your blog that doesn't mention anyone by name, and hope they get the clue. That's what I wind up doing. The best advice I've seen is at http://bit.ly/cAGGnG:"At the end of the day, when it comes to receiving unwanted forwarded emails, if you fear hurting someone’s feelings by asking them to stop forwarding you email, know they probably meant well, were really thinking of you, were trying to make a point – ahhh, just hit delete!"

  3. I delete all the pass-along stuff. I wish you'd post how we can sweetly get off the "pass-along-list" of our friends without LOSING our friends. Every time I try… I hurt someone's feelings.Hope you're doing well.

  4. Thank you for writing this all out so humorously. Chortling has become a lost art. ;-)Now, will you please say a word on why we all need to use web-based e-mail services instead of the überlame e-mail traps the various ISPs provide.I'm trying to edjakate a friend of mine who simply cannot see the harm in his mixing personal and business mail all being funneled through the self-limiting, self-deleting ISP e-mail program. His is verizon. Please tell us, o' computer oracle, why it is inadvisable to do so. I will forward (BCC) your reply off the innernetz tubes air.Thank you.

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