The Danger of BCC

The title is a bit dramatic, admittedly, but there are some pitfalls associated with using the BCC feature of email programs. More specifically the combination of BCC and the “Reply to All” functionality can put you in a pretty bad position. And the reason is quite simple:

You put people on the BCC list because you want them to know about the email, but the regular recipients should not be aware of that fact. So far so good. The problem is that most email users don’t pay much attention how they got the email. They don’t check whether they were put on TO (regular recipient, action required from them) or CC (just for information, nothing to be done).

As a consequence, if you send stuff around with folks on BCC, they also do not realize that they are neither on TO nor CC. Instead they may think “I can contribute something here” and press the “Reply to All” button. Obviously the regular recipients will wonder how someone, who did not get the email (from their perspective that is), can say something about it. And a split second later all but the novice email users realize that you had put an unknown number of other people on BCC.

So you will have a trust issue here! Luckily this situation can easily be avoided and here is my advice how to do it: Never use BCC. Instead just forward the email to all those people that you would have put on BCC. Now, there might be folks around who argue that this is too cumbersome. And indeed, if you send 100+ mails per day, it may be disruptive to always change into the “Sent Items” folder and back.

However, if you have read my post about the “Getting Things Done” approach, you may remember that I recommend to have a rule in the email program that puts you on CC for all outgoing email. So just wait a few seconds until this copy arrives in your inbox and forward it then.

2 thoughts on “The Danger of BCC

  1. How does your suggestion keep their email addresses private? Isn’t that the whole idea of Bcc?

  2. It depends a bit on the use-case. In my experience BCC is mostly used to add one or two people “secretly” to a mail (this is in a corporate environment). And for this background I had written the post. But you are right that when you want to send things to a bunch of folks without anyone being able to see other people’s email address, then a pure BCC approach is better. So I should probably re-phrase and say “Mixing BCC with TO and/or CC is bad”. Thanks for pointing this out!

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