Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How Not To Bulk Email

I'll be following up later with a post about the cat-fight going on between the cable company that services my area and the local ABC affiliate.

But, in my inquiries of trying to obtain more information about it, the GM of the local channel (WTVM) committed a horrible error in judgement in the way he responded.

You see, he sent an email to 417 addresses.

That's not what's so bad. What's so bad is how he did it.

He put all 417 address in the "to" field of the email!

Now, you might be asking yourself why that's a bad thing.

Well, let me tell you why.

Let's suppose for a second that someone has a vulnerable computer. Let's call him Doofus.

Now, let's suppose that Doofus and 416 other people contact a businessman -- let's call him Lee -- about something.

Now, let's suppose that one of those other 416 people is ... you. We'll call that person You.

Lee gets a bunch of emails. From You. From Doofus. And from 415 others. And he decides to respond to them all with a single email. This is reasonable, since he's being bombarded with a bunch of emails all talking about the same thing.

So, anyway, Lee composes an email to send to everyone that emailed him.

And he includes all 417 email addresses -- including Doofus and You -- in the "to" field for the email.

Now, here's what happens. You, Doofus, and 415 others get an email. And all 417 of you can see the email addresses of the others. That in and of itself is bad form.

But it gets worse.

Remember that Doofus has a vulnerable computer. He either doesn't have good security software running on his computer. Or it's out of date. Or something. The bottom line is, Doofus' computer is vulnerable.

So vulnerable that he's got a computer that's infected with something nasty.

And that something nasty is a program that harvests email addresses.

That is to say, it's checking Doofus' incoming emails and harvesting addresses.

And because of Doofus, everyone else on that email is now part of the list of the harvesting program. And everyone is going to start getting a s**tload of spam.

Now, what should Lee have done?

He should have included the addresses in the "bcc" field.

That way, when the harvesting program that's running on Doofus' computer tries to harvest emails, it's not going to get anything new.

You see, it already had Doofus' email address. That's how Doofus got the malware to begin with.

It already had Lee's email address because it got it when Doofus emailed Lee to start with.

But it didn't get the other 416 email addresses.

So, bloggers, if you ever have the need or strong desire to send emails to a lot of people, be sure to use the "bcc" field and not the "to" field.

Using the "to" field can cause grief to the whole list if just one of the people to whom it's sent has harvesting malware.

Using the "bcc" field will at least show care and concern over those on your list. It's being a good email neighbor.

And it keeps you from becoming a Doofus, too.


  1. [...] is funny stuff on the Internet too, like this situational comedy, or this fantastic bit of e-mail etiquette, but the point of this post is to bore you with things my pals sent to me. Behold the [...]

  2. I'm starting to get the "reply to all" emails this morning (groan)... thanks Lee for slamming full my email box!!! BTW, we're staying with CTVEA ... its more expensive to go with DirecTV and you still don't get all the local channels.

  3. Yeah, I totally fail to cover that other problem with mass "to" addresses -- one (or more) of the clowns on the receiving end hitting "reply to all" ... and slamming the box, like you said.

    I guess I'll be getting, oh, not more than a few hundred of those.

  4. You did such a good job on this one; how about explaining the necessity of copy and paste especially when forwarding aol e-mails.

  5. Do Not Mail Opt-Out Law would be fair to everyone.

    The proposed recent "Do not mail" is an Opt-Out law. Only those not desiring advertising mail need opt-out. Anyone desiring advertising mail can do nothing - and continue to receive it. Why deny those wishing to avoid advertising mail the power to do so?

    I do not consider handling unwanted advertising placed against my will on my personal property to be a civic obligation!

    The US Supreme Court said in the Rowan case in 1970, ""In today's [1970] complex society we are inescapably captive audiences for many purposes, but a sufficient measure of individual autonomy must survive to permit every householder to exercise control over unwanted mail. To make the householder the exclusive and final judge of what will cross his threshold undoubtedly has the effect of impeding the flow of ideas, information, and arguments that, ideally, he should receive and consider. Today's merchandising methods, the plethora of mass mailings subsidized by low postal rates, and the growth of the sale of large mailing lists as an industry in itself have changed the mailman from a carrier of primarily private communications, as he was in a more leisurely day, and have made him an adjunct of the mass mailer who sends unsolicited and often unwanted mail into every home. It places no strain on the doctrine of judicial notice to observe that whether measured by pieces or pounds, Everyman's mail today is made up overwhelmingly of material he did not seek from persons he does not know. And all too often it is matter he finds offensive."

    Furthermore, the Supreme Court said, "the mailer's right to communicate is circumscribed only by an affirmative act of the addressee giving notice that he wishes no further mailings from that mailer.

    To hold less would tend to license a form of trespass and would make hardly more sense than to say that a radio or television viewer may not twist the dial to cut off an offensive or boring communication and thus bar its entering his home. Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit; we see no basis for according the printed word or pictures a different or more preferred status because they are sent by mail."

    We need a nationwide "Do Not Mail" law to create a one-stop, convenient place for homeowners to give senders the aforementioned affirmative notice that we do not want certain kinds of mail sent to our homes.


    Ramsey A Fahel

  6. Poor Doofus, he didn't understand the use of bcc - but in my experience not many people do. Some email programs actually hide it away! Then there are those people that say we shouldn't use it because its sneaky. Kinda gets confusing.

    But I agree with the use above - not so much because of a malware problem, but as an inbox slamming problem. Its poor etiquette to expose someones email address to a complete stranger. BCC prevents this.




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