Saturday, November 22, 2008

To vs. CC vs. BCC

I have a pet peeve and it's been tripped up again. Given that I have lost friends over this particular pet peeve in the past, I thought I would put this out to my blog readers and see what you all think. I'm open to the fact that I'm simply overreacting to this and have been wrong all these years.

My pet peeve is when people send out emails to a huge list of recipients who are not all known to each other and put everyone in the TO or CC field rather than the BCC field.

The TO and CC fields allow all the recipients to see one another's email addresses. In some instances, this is fine and necessary. Those instances usually include times when some sort of conversation is taking place via email and the recipients need to be able to respond to everyone.

It is my belief, however, that if an email is strictly informational (e.g., marketing emails, jokes, political, religious, newsletters, etc.) then BCC should be used.

I run my own business and work hard to respect the privacy of my clients. I never send out emails to my entire client using the TO or CC fields. I believe it's just rude. I don't know what my clients are doing with the emails (hopefully, forwarding them to their family and friends - that's how referrals are built!) and I don't want my email address book to end up in the wrong hands.

Previously, a good friend of mine (now a former friend) would send out all those unsupported urban legends to huge lists of people using TO or CC. None of them were ever true as they were easily disproved using I politely repeatedly asked this friend to check out before forwarding these outrageous emails , use BCC, or take me off the list. Multiple emails later, that all used TO or CC, I hit "Reply All" (on purpose) and politely told everyone that whatever the newest urban legend was, wasn't true and included the supporting documentation. My friend blew up at me and we haven't spoken since. I know that hitting "Reply All" was rude and probably embarrassed her. But I truly did not know what else to do.

A couple of years later, I had a distant family member on the other side of the country do the same thing but with religious emails. And his friends, none of whom I knew, would repeatedly hit "Reply All" to discuss their church activities. Personally, the religious emails offended me on many levels, but I felt like I was in a Catch-22. I enjoyed the ability to keep in touch with my relatives, but did not share their fundamentalist religious beliefs. Again, I replied to my relative (not everyone) and shared with him my request to use BCC or to not send me the religious emails, but he didn't. These emails continued for weeks until I finally wrote and sternly requested, in an email only to my family member, that I be removed from the list and only contacted for family-related business. My family member hasn't spoken to me since.

This has started to happen again with someone I knew peripherally from college marketing his new business. I have written this person (not the entire group) and politely asked him to please use BCC and related how much my clients appreciate when I respect their privacy and I know his will too. But now I'm questioning myself. UPDATE: The person wrote me back, thanked me for bringing this to his attention and said he would use BCC from now on.

Do you run into this To vs. CC vs. BCC problem? How do you handle it?

I am open to the possibility that I am overreacting and that the rest of the world does not find this problematic.



  1. You've totally got it right, Jessica! So many people just don't get it. In fact, I have put relatives in the "block" filter because of the garbage they keep sending. One pointed out to another relative that she was trying to send us a greeting, but it wasn't going through. I just shrugged my shoulders.

  2. Thanks Tim! And thank you for always using BCC on your newsletters, which I love and would never want to be without! :)

  3. I have several relatives on my block filter because they won't stop sending me forwards, urban legends, or religious email. And, I try to use the bcc whenever I send out a mass email, although sometimes I mess it up. I have been told that sometimes spammers can get hold of those emails and just mine the email addresses for use in their spamming and I don't want to contribute to that. And I personally hate those mass emails where everyone on the email keeps hitting reply all - I am looking at you Development and Alumni Relations!

  4. I have several relatives who do this. I use Gmail as my primary email account, though, and it has a bevy of nice features for filtering messages recieved. I set it up to automatically mark anything certain relatives send me as already read, and sent to a certain box, so I can peruse it from time to time at my leisure, rather than have it all dumped in my inbox. My inbox has since felt rather empty, just how I like it. :)

  5. Regarding the various ramifications of To:/c:/Bc:, I'm specifically curious as to whether it's True or False that "spammers can get hold of those emails and just mine the[ir] email addresses..." as above.

  6. Joseph,

    Do I know for a fact that spammers mine the email addresses? Well, I'm not a spammer, so I don't know exactly how to make that happen.

    That said, it's not exactly difficult to imagine how easily it would be to accomplish this.

    It's not so common these days, but even a couple of years ago, it was not uncommon to receive emails that had been forwarded a bunch of times to a bunch of people and you could see every single email address that had received the email because the senders simply hit forward and didn't remove the headers.

    Why take the risk? If you can reduce spam, don't you want to?


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