The “Bcc:” Field is Your Friend

Since I’ve just received the third such e-mail in as many days, a happy, friendly, not-at-all passive-aggressive suggestion:

When you are sending out an e-mail to a large number of recipients, many of whom do not know each other, won’t you please please please PLEASE GODDAMNIT PLEASE put all those addresses into the “Bcc:” field rather than the “Cc:” field of your e-mail software? Here’s why:

1. Some people actually consider their e-mail addresses somewhat private and don’t want them broadcast to a bunch of people they don’t already know, and/or:

2. Might not want those e-mail address stored onto the computers of strangers who may or may not have viruses on their computers that harvest e-mail address for spamming purposes, and/or:

3. Might not want the inevitable flood of pointless e-mail that follows when someone on the “cc:” list decides to hit “reply all” rather than reply directly to the original e-mailer, up to and including the angry “Damn it will people please stop hitting the ‘reply all’ button!” e-mail sent 10 or 15 messages in, and (of course) sent “reply all.”

Since I have a very public e-mail, points one and two really don’t apply to me personally, but point three really does, which is why my general response to e-mails sent with a large “cc:” field filled with people I don’t know is to immediately mark the e-mail as spam, so I don’t have to see the followup messages. Whether the person who sent the original e-mail actually ever escapes from the spam trap is an interesting question.

Since I expect you don’t actually want to have your correspondence to me instantly ported to the spam hole, I ask again: When sending out e-mails to a large number of recipients, many of whom do not know each other, won’t you please use the “Bcc:” field? I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

50 Comments on “The “Bcc:” Field is Your Friend”

  1. Amen.
    I have a (lengthy) stock email reply that says roughly the same thing. I hate when I have to send it to close friends or family who have yet to embrace the “Bcc:,” because no matter how gently I try to put it, I always feel like I’m coming off as a bit of an a-hole. No matter, though. Someone’s got to tell them.

  2. Similarly, if someone on a mailing lists asks for someone’s contact information, send it off list. Chances are that not everyone on the lists needs/wants the requested information, and even on a theoretically closed list, you can never be sure who’s reading it.

  3. Amen. Our local Chamber of Commerce was sending out updates with all members in CC: until I corrected them on it. Drove me batty, but at the same time gave me many, many worthwhile email addresses.

  4. There is one silver lining in that dark cloud you are talking about.

    That is the glee with which I send out replies to those FW: messages, which have dozens of addresses listed in the CC: field, that are pure tripe and can be proven so in a moment with a search.

    With those messages you get to respond to all the original sender’s recipients and say that the sender must be an utter moron for sending this junk out to without even conducting the most basic fact checking. Albeit I use slightly more polite language than that the meaning comes across loud & clear.

    By hitting the “reply all” button in this case I am just doing my part in preventing the fall of civilization.

    I very quickly stop getting those types of FW: messages. I am at least heartened by the fact that this shows that at least they can learn.

  5. RE your #4,John, I think you should consider making this a sideline. Have gun keyboard, will travel post about your issue.

    (P.S. a Preview function for blog comments would be really handy …)

  6. Dragon @ 7:
    I think you are perhaps hasty in assuming they learn, they merely learn not to include you on the list.

    One woman at my office habitually sends out Neiman Marcus cookie stories and “Obama is a Muslim” type emails. I corrected her several times and pointed out snopes each time and stopped getting the emails. The rest of my co-workers, however, still receive them often.

  7. Some of the people with whom I supposedly work hve yet to grasp the difference between ‘reply’ and ‘reply all’ on e-mails sent to groups. I really don’t need, or want, to see ten pieces of mail containing jokes / restaurant suggestions / confirmation of attendance at lunch or happy hour. (The major offender has had it explained to him in short words, but still doesn’t get it.)

  8. Andy Smith @ 9: Perhaps that’s what he intends for them to learn. With some of these people, “quit copying me on this garbage” is a far easier thing to teach than “quit sending out this garbage.” Baby steps.

  9. The worst part of the whole issue is that some people are so burned by being torn down for using reply-all that they now never ever do.

    Which is quite annoying when you want to involve, say, your mother and your wife in a conversation via email, and your mother keeps responding just to you instead of including your wife because of having dealt with reply-all stupidity and having been yelled at for it by others so much that she now NEVER uses reply-all.

    And then you get yelled at for not telling your wife about what was said in the responses.

  10. I had something to add but then I read J Berne’s comment and it warped my brain. I cannot possibly conceive of wanting to have a three-way conversation via email with my husband and my mother-in-law. Who would do this? WHY would they do this? Is my family so different from other families that my viewpoint is completely skewed and this isn’t an obvious recipe for disaster?

  11. Abusus non tollit usum, of course, so one must be careful in chiding people.

    At my company we send out broadcast messages notifying users of outages, etc., and one time some jerk Replied All to ask that he not receive them any more. 50 others then did the same, followed by 25 more who said “stop Replying All!”

    We got yelled at and told to use bcc, and replied that yes, we certainly would—if the system we used for broadcasts HAD a bcc field!

    They got us a new one that did.

  12. This whole matter falls within the scope of a broader problem: often people do not think about why they are doing what they’re doing. They do not consider matters of etiquette, courtesy, or others’ privacy or wishes.

    I mean, maybe I go too far the other way: I’ve been known to obsess for several minutes as to whether a particular recipient should be a ‘To’ or a ‘CC’. On one hand, some of these things are a matter of semantics. On the other, what’s the point of having an option to ‘CC’ someone if there isn’t some (if only nominal) difference in intent between CC-ing and To-ing?

    (Related: as you might suspect, I sympathize with the author of this fine book.)

  13. Andrew Hackard: You are absolutely correct.

    While I wish they would learn to stop sending the garbage to everyone I’ll settle for them at least learning not to send it to me.

  14. I’ve been an advocate for the bcc: field for years — I can’t tell you how mind-numbing it is to receive twenty back-and-forth messages between two people that were originally sent to everyone in their departments. I finally convinced my department to move our distribution list to the bcc: line when responding to eliminate some of these messages. We make it known in the body of the email that the department is being blind-copied, and we rarely get anyone questioning why…

  15. Andrew Hackard@11 >>Perhaps that’s what he intends for them to learn. With some of these people, “quit copying me on this garbage” is a far easier thing to teach than “quit sending out this garbage.” Baby steps.<<

    Guh. My uncle (apparently everyone has an uncle like this) used to send me crap– some racist and ill-informed, some well-meaning and ill-informed– and after my many responses ordering him to check before he hit forward, he called me a priss and never again sent me a thing. Everyone else in the family still gets them though. I don’t think he even took a baby step. (At least I don’t have to cringe every time I get an e-mail from my incredibly-nice-but-blinded-by-patriotism uncle.)

  16. As a person who has had the distinct pleasure of working in tech support at several places in a previous incarnation, it still amazes me how many people don’t know such basic things. I also had to create a boilerplate e-mail message to send to users. The most fun I ever got out of it was a senior manager sending a cc message that included the private e-mail addresses of some quite well-known people in it. You can imagine what the fall-out from that was like.

  17. Particularly bad offenders on the “gotta send this email to everybody I know because, gosh, it’s important that they all know that the love child of Bill Gates and Walt Disney wants to send them a new car'” have been known to receive from me a list of cites disproving their thesis, along with a bill for my time in my guise as professional researcher. I mean, if you can’t be bothered to do your own research, the least I can do is charge for doing it for you.

  18. I teach at a university – all group email to students must go in the bcc: rather than the cc: field, as students’ email addresses are considered protected information. Improperly disclosing student information is one of the easiest ways to really get into big trouble with the administration…

  19. The BCC thingie is an offense that ranks right up there with the idiots that persist in sending LARGE video files instead of sending links to the storage site.

    I’ve tried and tried to explain this to one of my wife’s friends. I finally gave up and told the offender to no longer send us email.

    Sometimes you just can’t win against agressively stupid people.


  20. We have some poorly constructed mailing lists at work, like #cityname-warehouse and #cityname-customerservice – but if the sender isn’t alert, he/she types in #cityname and stops, sends the message to every employee in the city, and sets off a regular firestorm of reply-alls, ineffective recalls, and general stabbiness. Still, IT (which is my dept) doesn’t restrict the global addresses, so sometimes we get totally idiotic personal email sent to the whole city rather than the small group to whom it was intended.

    It’s not as much fun as the cc vs bcc issue though, which I heartily agree with.

    And hello, the election is over, I truly DO NOT WANT ANY MORE POLITICAL EMAIL, even if Rahm Emanuel himself were to send it.

  21. @Dave #23 – my in-laws are not technically savvy enough to be able to tell whether the video they are sending is a hyperlink or attachment, nor how to tell how large the file size is, nor any context for what the file size is anyway.

    Bless their hearts. ;)

  22. When I get group emails like this, I mail each person on the list that I don’t know separately and say something like:

    “Man, am I glad [insert originator’s name here] sent me your address. I need somebody to proofread my thesis – it’s a detailed analysis of why you shouldn’t use anti-virus software, because virus infections actually strengthen your computer’s immune system. Fact. See the attachment. Anyway, please be sure to thank [originator] for me. And don’t worry if your computer acts strangely, it’s just getting stronger…”

    Alternatively, I hit “Reply to all” and say something like: “Dude! I was just thinking about you. Remember that time in Tijuana? When you got blind drunk and picked up those two Elvis impersonators? Hey, what did you ever do with the vibrator?”

    Usually the problem solves itself almost immediately. I rarely get included in group emails anymore.

  23. A couple of years ago I received a bulk email from the marketing dept of a major publisher, announcing some book release or other. (This was in my Andromeda Spaceways capacity.) In the CC field was every single media/author/editor contact this publicist had gathered over the years.

    I paused a second or two, then hit delete. But I do wonder how many others pounced on it.

  24. I understand point 3, but switching to gmail has solved it for me. No matter how many people on the list, if they hit “reply” or “reply-all” and it comes to me, it still only take up a single slot on the screen. Yay.

    Points 1 and 2 still apply though, obviously.

  25. But John I will so miss the detective work I can do when my colleagues inadvertently put all the email addresses in the CC: field. For instance, all of us who were late with our paperwork – unite and bring down the system! All my competitors for a big contract – offer to collaborate together in the next round (legally, I might add!). All the recipients on a snarky email sent by a ‘friend’ – commiseration email coming!

    No, I agree. BCC is the professional, intelligent thing to do.

    If only our work listservs were set up that way or at least moderated – as a mandatory, informational listserv, the settings ought to easily discourage reply all rather than encouraging it. Somehow, I am not interested in the whereabouts of dozens of my colleagues when they should be at the office-wide meeting.

  26. You’ve hit on one of my favorite pet peeves.

    During an earlier career I was a corporate computer trainer tasked with educating a company full of people who had limited, if any, computer experience as we moved the entire company to a pc culture. When I started teaching the email segment, it included netiquette and correct business use of to, cc and bcc, among other topics.

    I still give a variation of that netiquette class to college students involved with the national fraternity I belong to, and I use real life incidents in my talk. Including the most recent violation where one chapter accidently “borrowed” the local alumni chapter email list they’d had on fiile from a special event, sending the initial message to everyone in the to: section. They proceded to have a rather nasty internal “reply all” feud that got sent to the national president, several national board members, and most of the national office staff before a couple of us alums caught it and got them to stop. The group was bored, but several attendees did recognize their own bad habits and ‘fessed up during the q & a at the end.

    These days they need to be teaching that kind of stuff in elementary school as soon as they teach them how to send an email.

  27. Thanks! I really didn’t know this about bcc. I hate seeing my email sent to others and didn’t know there was a way to stop doing it myself. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!

  28. I disagree John.

    I love it when someone sends a CC (not a BCC). It’s a prime opportunity for a mass off-color bombing run on a bunch of of innocent villagers.

  29. I received my first Internet account back in 1977 when it was the ARPA/DARPAnet, so paint me “curmudgeon”.

    My grandmother was the fifth of thirteen children and I am the eldest child of her firstborn. Typically, in such a large clan, there’s a large overlap in generations amongst my two hundred or so cousins and their spouses.

    My grandmother’s younger sister’s baby girl LJ — ten years younger than her nearest sibling — is almost exactly one year younger than I, and we grew up more like siblings than cousins.

    [We just had dinner together last night.]

    Sorry for all the boring demographics, but I gave LJ her first computer about 12 years ago [and her newest HP Pavilion 17″ display laptop last evening for her forthcoming birthday]. I’ve trained her to go to whenever she receives spam and in other aspects of netiquette.

    Her sister Beth the nurse, who’s about fifteen years older, bought her first computer about five years ago and began perpetuating every piece of spam urban legend under the sun to her sister and me.

    Each of these forwards retained not only the two dozen or so e-ddresses of the sender, but the score of so e-ddresses for each of the six iterations captured in the body of the email.

    After about the fifth piece of cyber crud correspondence hit my inbox, I wrote a piece via BCC going up the line extolling BCC and explaining how the senders were contributing to increased electric bills and roaming blackouts, propagating viruses, and generally lowering the national IQ. I advised them all to ask the persons above them in the chain emails to stop publishing their e-ddresses for all the porn spammers to harvest.

    One woman near the root, in a huff, stupidly wrote me wondering how I got her e-ddress.

    Beth immediately took me off her spam list.

    Why can’t and didn’t app writers make BCC the default?

    I blame them.


  30. If I may play devil’s advocate for a moment…

    Some of us have set up e-mail filters that automagically filter out e-mail that is not addressed to them specifically. In other words, if their e-mail address does not appear in the TO: or CC: field, then the e-mail is put into some sort of sp@m folder. Since a majority of sp@m messages fall in this category, (IE the recipient is not in the TO: or CC: field) then this catches a majority of sp@m other sp@m filters miss. Further, this is a constant. While unsolicited mail senders make all sorts of adjustments into avoiding filters, this one remains untouched. This is true because of the very fact they send one message to hundreds of people, and their message would be lost by a huge mail header.

    Thus, if the person does not filter the “from” address previously, the above recommended action would result in the mail falling into the unwanted mail folder.

    In other words, if you feel compelled to send messages where BCC is required, then you should know that what you are doing is sp@mming. It is much better to send individual personal notes, then it is to send a bulk note to multiple people.

  31. DouglasG:

    “In other words, if you feel compelled to send messages where BCC is required, then you should know that what you are doing is sp@mming.”

    Oh, nonsense. I use BCC fields all the time for perfectly legitimate reasons. For example, if I’m traveling and I want to let several people in a town I’m going to (but who don’t know each other) know I’m coming. Or for when I do some fundraising and promise to e-mail a story. Or when I send a message to a number of friends but don’t want my e-mail box filled with cross-chatter about the e-mail. And so on. In each case, it’s not better to send an individual note, it’s in fact a waste of my time.

    If people automatically send “bcc” mail into their spam filters, that’s their choice, but in my opinion it’s not a particularly smart choice, and I’m not going to stop using a useful addressing field because of it.

  32. As I said, I was playing the “Devil’s Advocate.”

    Up thread, many people were acting as if there were no down side to using BCC. There is a down side. Thus, before using BCC, everyone should think whether or not there is a legitimate reason to use it. Your reasons are legitimate. However, people should think before they use BCC. It is not a replacement for CC.

    The example I gave about unwanted mail can also happen. If you get a great deal of sp@m, you can catch 95% of it by filtering out mail that is not addressed to you. However, you will also catch some wanted mail if you do not filter on that. Thus, if I knew that Mr. John Scalzi was going to e-mail me, I would filter on his e-mail address before it hit the sp@m filter.

    If you used BCC instead of CC in a haphazard manner, then your friends would not know who you sent the message to. Who was invited to the party? Who received this joke? That sort of thing. Hence, before using BCC, make sure there is a good reason for it. That was my point.

  33. This has been one very informative, educational and quite entertaining thread. I’ve on been working on line for only a couple of years, mainly on social sites and never really used my regular email much until lately. I play music and have been compiling contacts to send a hyperlink to my sites to get work. Thank goodness i found you all because i was ignorant of the cc, bcc and probably would have made some people mad. I only have one question. I am still wondering, if because of their personal spam settings if i should take the time to send “to” or “bcc” a bunch of contacts at once and get it over with. I have to wonder appx what % would get dumped.

    Anyway i’ve only sent out one email with a “cc” in it, it is a dead email anyway, i found out, i was just wanting to locate an old friend.

    Now i am think going to apologize to the business i sent that to for being an idiot.

    Thank you all.

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  38. Seven spam messages have accrued over the past few months in this thread. Looks like you had quite the spam infestation last October.

  39. And then there were six. Spams, that is. You got the most recent one, but (naturally enough) didn’t glance upthread.

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