Keeping private things private.
It has nothing to do with attachments and everything to do with any email you receive and then forward on.
It has little to do with reducing your own spam and more to do with preventing the other people involved from getting more.
It’s all about keeping their email addresses private and un-harvestable.
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Reducing spam with BCC
Take care to hide the email addresses that would otherwise be exposed in the emails you forward and send. Use BCC to hide the recipient’s email addresses, and edit the body of any forwarded email to remove email addresses it may contain.
- You get a wonderful piece of humor (or something else) via email.
- You forward it to a collection of your friends.1
The mail that you received looks something like this.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Subject: This is funny I thought this joke was kinda funny: A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said, ...
Your friend has emailed you some humor and CC’ed a number of other people.
Think about that for a moment. You can see all the email addresses on the CC line, whether or not those people wanted their email addresses exposed.
In fact, all those recipients can see your email address, too, as well as everyone else’s.
Privacy violation compounded
It gets worse.
You think this joke is really funny and worth forwarding on to more of your friends, so you hit Forward and create a message that looks like this.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: FW: This is funny Pretty cute... > From: email@example.com > To: firstname.lastname@example.org > Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, > email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, > email@example.com > Subject: This is funny > > I thought this joke was kinda funny: > > A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said, ...
Just look at all the email addresses that are visible to anyone who gets this message. It’s a gold mine of known-good email addresses they can then use for any purpose they wish.
Of course, we immediately think of spam, but there are many other privacy issues that result as well.
What if one of your friends was trying to keep their email address private? You just ruined that with a simple forward.
And after the message has been forwarded a few times, the list of juicy email addresses at the top often exceeds the length of the actual message at the bottom!
You’d be surprised at how often the resulting email messages get forwarded to a mailing list archived online where it a) lives on pretty much forever and b) is even more easily harvested by spammers.
Be a good email citizen
There are two things you must do to avoid adding to the problem.
- Use BCC for the recipients. BCC reduces spam by preventing the email addresses you send the email to from being visible to the people who get it. (How you do this will vary, but almost all email programs and interfaces have it.)
- Edit any email addresses out of the body of the message before you hit Send. This will remove all the prior recipients from being visible and has the added benefit of making the email smaller and easier to read.
Of course, you should always consider whether the message should be forwarded at all, but I’ll assume you’ve made that decision properly.
So this time, when we click Forward, we do those two things:
- Instead of entering all those addresses on the TO or CC lines, we put all the recipients on the BCC line.2
- Before pressing Send, we click in the body of the message and delete all the lines that are nothing more than forwarded email headers.
Using the example from above, here’s what our forward looks like.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Bcc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Subject: FW: This is funny Pretty cute... > I thought this joke was kinda funny: > > A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said, ...
And here’s what the recipients see.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com Subject: FW: This is funny Pretty cute... > I thought this joke was kinda funny: > > A pirate walked into a bar and the bartender said, ...
Not an email address to be found.
Nothing for spammers to harvest.
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Footnotes & References
2: Most email programs won’t let you leave both the To and Cc lines blank, so it’s common to send the message “to” yourself, with all the real recipients on Bcc.