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How and Why to Blind Copy Multiple-Recipient Emails

Copyright © 2005-2009 Craig Hartnett. All rights reserved.
Distribution with attribution and a link to iamcraig.com/blind_copying.php permitted.
Last updated: Monday, April 27th, 2009.

Published: Thursday, November 24th, 2005.

The Situation

So you've received this great joke that you want to pass onto your family and friends. Fair enough. I love to pass on a discriminating selection of good stuff occasionally too, and sometimes it's not a joke. It could be a particularly insightful opinion piece, some important security information, or... whatever. The important thing is that you are about to use the great medium that email is to mass distribute something quickly and easily. (I'm not even going to go into chain letters and various hoaxes here. There's just one simple rule for those: Do not forward them; delete them.)

Before you hit that send button, there's something you should know. Please don't put all of the email addresses of your family and friends in the "To" or "Cc" fields of your email; put them in the "Bcc" field! By putting the addresses in the "Bcc" field (as explained and illustrated below), they do not show up at the top of the emails that each of your contacts receives. We've all received those kinds of emails -- you know, where you have to page through reams and reams of email addresses before you can actually get to the message that the person wants you to read? Yes, those ones. This is a "Bad Thing"TM for the reasons explained below.

Why?

Viruses:

The first reason to do this is to protect your family and friends (whom you presumably care about) from viruses, Trojans, worms and all of the other electronic nasties ("malware") out there. How does exposing all of those email addresses in the "To" or "Cc" fields expose your contacts to viruses? Most viruses these days operate by collecting email addresses from the infected computer. They get them from multiple sources, but any email address stored on your computer is at risk. Where do most people have email addresses saved? In their email, of course.

Now, we all need to save addresses in an address book of some sort, whether that address book is the one that comes with your email program or even just a plain-text file you keep somewhere, so we can't get around that without using some kind of encryption. But there is one area where the worms of this electronic world get fresh blood and so manage to keep propagating, and that's from multiple-recipient emails that are passed around with loads of email address exposed for all (including the worms) to see.

Spam:

In addition to viruses, we have spammers to worry about. More and more these days spammers and organised crime are behind the viruses that are passed around. Keep in mind that these viruses are small programs, and they do what their programmers want. What they want is for the virus to "phone home" with the list of email addresses on the infected computer.

There's not much more that needs to be said about this that wasn't said in the viruses section above. Simply put, by sending multiple-recipient emails with all of the recipients' email addresses exposed, you are telling all of your friends and family that you really don't care if your actions cause their private addresses to end up on a spammer's distribution list so that they can receive exciting offers to enlarge their breasts and/or penis.

You don't really want that, do you?

Privacy:

Finally, there's the privacy issue. Do all of your family, friends and various other contacts know each other? Probably not. Should you be giving your mother's email address to everyone and their dog? Not really. Would you broadcast her phone number and street address to the world without a second thought? Probably not. Why do it with her email address then? Doesn't make sense, does it? Exactly.

There is one small exception to the "Bcc" rule, but it really only applies in business situations or within small groups of people who know each other and probably already know each others' email addresses -- e.g., within your family. In these cases we're not talking about forwarding jokes; we're talking about sending an email where all of the recipients should know who else received the email or where someone on the distribution list might want to use the "reply to all" feature of their email program to reply to the group. For example, if you're setting up a meeting or a family get-together you should probably put the addresses of the recipients in the "To" and/or "Cc" fields so that everyone who gets the email can see who else was included. However, as I said, this applies only in specific situations and certainly doesn't apply when forwarding jokes.

How?

Addressing Email:

Instead of putting the recipients' email addresses in the "To" or "Cc" fields, put them in the "Bcc" field. It's that easy! If your email program or service requires an address in the "To" field (most don't, but there are a very few that do even if you already have an address or addresses in the "Bcc" field), then put your own email address in there, not the address of even one of your contacts.

Unfortunately most of the world seems to use Microsoft Outlook Express and, for some reason, the morons at Microsoft have done and continue to do two things with both Outlook and Outlook Express:
  • When composing an email they hide the "Bcc" field by default, and
  • They make it very difficult for you to see the full headers of your incoming emails so that you can fully appreciate the outrage that those of us who don't use Outlook or Outlook Express feel when we receive emails with dozens of email addresses in the "To" and/or "Cc" fields.
That second point is not a point against the other email programs out there. You see, Microsoft thinks you're an idiot that needs shielding from such hugely complicated (please note the sarcasm) things as the full headers of an email. I don't think you're an idiot, and neither do the makers of fine email programs such as Eudora, which I have been using since 1996 -- before Outlook Express existed!

Forwarding Emails:

Besides making sure that you put all of the email addresses of your contacts in the "Bcc" field of the email that you send, there's just one more thing you need to consider. If you are forwarding an email (as opposed to sending a brand new email), did the person who sent that email to you put all of the addresses of his/her contacts in the "Bcc" field, or can you see all of them sitting there in the email you are about to forward?
  • If the former, great! Be sure to thank and praise that person for doing the right thing.
  • If the latter, you need to do two things:
    • First, delete all of those addresses from the email you are about to forward (see example below), and
    • Second, give 'em hell! OK, be nice. Politely tell your friend that doing what he/she did is not a good idea, and simply give them a link to this page (http://www.iamcraig.com/blind_copying.php) so that they can learn what you know.
Also you need to delete the email address of the person who sent you the original email, so that you are not sending that person's email address to a bunch of people he/she doesn't know.

Sample Forwarded Email:

The real names (except mine) and addresses in the screen shot below have been blurred out for obvious privacy reasons.

This is how the email looks before you delete all of the addresses
from the original email you are forwarding.

Sample forwarded email before removing all of the email addresses.
If you recognise this as an email you sent me, don't get mad! :)


This is how the email looks after you delete all of the addresses
from the original email you are forwarding.

Sample forwarded email before removing all of the email addresses.


As you can see, the email has been edited to remove all of the addresses, as well as the other unnecessary header information.

Sample Reply:

Here's a tongue-in-cheek reply you can send to the person who exposed your email address to the world.

Sample reply to the person who exposed your email address to the world.

Screen Shots

So, because a picture speaks a thousand words, here are some pictures of different email programs and web-based services showing you the "Bcc" field. Just look for the "Bcc" and the two "example.com" addresses I have inserted for illustration.

Outlook Express:

Default display:

Note the lack of a "Bcc" field in the default Outlook Express display.

Default Microsoft Outlook Express email composition window.


How to show the "Bcc" header:

To display the "Bcc" field, click View then All Headers.

Show all headers in Microsoft Outlook Express email composition window.


Where to put the addresses:

Now the "Bcc" field is displayed and you can enter email addresses
in that field as you usually would in other fields.

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Microsoft Outlook Express email composition window.

Outlook:

Default display:

Note the lack of a "Bcc" field in the default Outlook display.

Default Microsoft Outlook email composition window.


How to show the "Bcc" header:

To display the "Bcc" field, click View then Bcc Field.

Show the 'Bcc' field in Microsoft Outlook email composition window.


Where to put the addresses:

Now the "Bcc" field is displayed and you can enter email addresses
in that field as you usually would in other fields.

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Microsoft Outlook email composition window.

Eudora:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Eudora.

Thunderbird:

Note that Thunderbird shows a "Bcc" field for each address rather than putting multiple addresses
in a single "Bcc" field.

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Thunderbird.

Evolution:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Evolution.

Opera:

Note the "Bcc" field between the "CC" and "Subject" fields.

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Opera.

UUPlus Mailer:

Note the "Bcc" button under the "To" and "Cc" buttons. UUPlus Mailer is one of the few email programs that
requires an email address in the "To" field, so put your own email address in the "To" field and the
addresses of the other recipients in the "Bcc" field.

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in UUPlus Mailer.

Horde/IMP:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Horde/IMP.

SquirrelMail:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in SquirrelMail.

Uebimiau:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Uebimiau.

Gmail:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Gmail.

Yahoo Mail:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Yahoo Mail.

Hotmail:

Email addresses in the 'Bcc' field in Hotmail.

And in Summary...

It's not that complicated or big a deal to send multiple-recipient emails to your family, friends and co-workers while respecting their privacy and email addresses once you know why and how to do it. Please -- it's the right thing to do and not at all as trivial or anal as it seems. Thanks.





This page (craig.ca/blind_copying.php version 2.0.1) last updated 2009:04:27:12:57:37 UTC.
Copyright © 1996-2017 Craig Hartnett. All rights reserved.