The problem with 'Cc:'

Written by Jamie Freeman

When sending an email to a list of friends, colleagues or potential clients, many people unwittingly distribute the email addresses to the entire list. So how do you avoid putting yourself in the position of having to apologise to disgruntled recipients?

What's the difference between Cc and Bcc?

When you are emailing the same message to a number people at once there are several ways of doing it:

  • You can email everyone individually
  • You can 'Cc' a group of people
  • You can 'Bcc' a group of people

The first option is not much good. It means your computer will take much longer to connect to the server to process the emails on an individual basis, and it will take you longer to address multiple emails.

The second option sends just one copy of your message to the server, along with the list of recipients. 'Cc' stands for 'Carbon Copy', a hangover from paper office days.

The server takes on the work of distributing the messages for you. This frees up your computer but also means that the list of recipients is included with every message sent.

Everyone who gets the message can see all the other addresses it was sent to.

Thirdly, my preferred option! Bcc is just like Cc in all but one important respect: it doesn't include the list with every message sent. 'Bcc' stands for 'Blind Carbon Copy' Recipients can't see all the other addresses the message was sent to, although they will usually see the address you place in the 'to' field. For this reason it can be a good idea to send the email to yourself, while Bcc'ing it to the list.

Why is Cc a problem?

Say someone sends you a 'humorous' email, and they Cc it to 50 of their friends and colleagues. Just 5 of the recipients find it amusing enough to forward to their own list of 50 friends, and just 5 people on their lists do the same. Your email address has just been passed on to 1,250 people! You can see how quickly it gets around - which is why people in our business get so excited about viral marketing!

If one of those 1,250 people is in the business of spamming then you're all in for never-ending junk email, because they will sell your names to any list-mongers in the business, and they don't have 50 friends on their lists - they deal in millions!

Even worse, these days a frightening percentage of PCs are infected with malicious programs that seek out email addresses from the in-box in order to send automated mass emails, many of which themselves contain viruses and 'spyware'.

You, Spam and The Law

What's Spam got to do with you? And how could your email marketing activity break the law?

Firstly, Spam is generally regarded as any email recieved that was not explicitly requested of the sender. (Websters defines it as "unsolicited usually commercial E-mail sent to a large number of addresses" although this isn't a technical definition of spam, which in my opinion is rather weak - but that's another story!)

The last thing you want is to be regarded as a Spammer by your potential clients, so you must be very careful about who you send to, what you send and how you send it.

Secondly, the simple act of storing contacts on your computer (or in a filing cabinet for that matter) puts certain obligations upon you under the Data Protection Act. For example, you must protect the privacy of that data, unless the individual has specifically allowed you to pass it on to third parties. Clearly, passing an individuals' name and email address to an arbitrary email list is hardly in accordance with UK law!

It's unlikely that a personal email Cc'd to freinds will land you in trouble (unless I receive it of course!), but this sort of activity by companies in a marketing scenario could easily land you with complaints.

How to avoid doing it

Your email application will certainly have the ability to send bulk emails using the Bcc method, but unfortunately some of them default to Cc or obscure the BCC option. For example, using Microsoft Outlook you may be presented with an input field for Cc addresses at the top of your mail message. Clicking on the Cc icon next to this field will bring up a dialogue box which actually allows you to specify Bcc addresses, and this should be your usual option.

Using your mail applications Bcc: field

If your marketing operations call for lots of bulk emailing you should perhaps consider a tool built specifically for this task. (We use MaxBulk for Macintosh, but a quick Google will bring up plenty of choices.)


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