Blind etiquette

GCN Insider | Products and trends that affect the way government uses technology

Sometimes we need a quick reminder that the simplest tools can be the most effective, which is why we welcomed the recent Cyber Security Tip from the U.S. Security Readiness Team, the operational arm of the Homeland Security Department's National Cyber Security Division concerning BCC.

Veteran netters may be well aware of BCC, which is short for blind carbon copy. For e-mail readers, BCC is almost identical to CC, except the recipients don't see in the headers whom you have sent that e-mail to in addition to those listed in the To: field.

We can think of more than a few reasons not to use BCC. If no one else has been copied, the recipient may assume that the e-mail is a private communication. It may even appear that the sender and the blind-copy recipient are in on a private joke at the expense of the recipient. Hilarity, or heartbreak, may ensue. Also, blind copying may fragment conversations, because the recipient will not get any of the reply all responses unless the BCC takes the trouble to include them.

We suspect Microsoft might have been sensitive to such indiscretion ' or rather, undue discretion ' because Outlook's default mail message comes without the BCC field, though you can add one through the address book.

Nonetheless, US-CERT Cyber Security Tip ST04-008, issued April 25, offers a few good reasons why you might want to use the BCC after all. One chief use is when you have to contact 'multiple recipients without letting them know who else is receiving the message.' Very true ' we've received more than a few mass e-mails from public relations people that could serve as a directory to journalists more famous than we are. Very handy, that. Bad karma for the PR person, though. You can also use BCC for archiving 'namely, by sending a copy of the e-mail to another account ' without drawing needless attention to this administrative mundanity.

The third reason, and quite a good one, is that if the e-mail will later appear on a Web page somewhere ' say, from being posted in a newsgroup ' those e-mail addresses will be harvested by spammers. Needless to say, your colleagues may not appreciate the extra attention.

So BCC is more useful than we thought. How about that?

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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