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BCC

A method of sending e-mail to people without them all getting to know each-other's email address!


BCC is a useful thing to know about in the sending of email. Yet, many people don't know about it. This fact can be seen by observing the widespread practice of sending of emails to a set of people all in the "TO" field. Usually, someone has an idea that a particular message is funny, and they send it to some of their friends. That's ok, provided the friends share the same sense of humour, AND if every one of the friends is safe. More about the hazards of sending out messages in that style in the section on HAZARDS.

The problem is best avoided by knowing about From, To, CC, and BCC, and then using them appropriately. Most of this is easy and you probably already know it, but I've got to explain it to give a complete explanation of the background.

FROM: When you send an email message, it comes from your e-mail address, which the recipient of the message can reply to.

TO: You send the message to another person and specify their e-mail address (or just their name, and the e-mail program looks up their email address). This is the destination or delivery address of the message.

CC: This is "Carbon Copy", the idea dating back to when physical letters written with a pen on paper, or typed with a typewriter on paper, could have an extra copy made by inserting an extra sheet of paper with a piece of Carbon Paper inbetween. Impressions on the top sheet would cause carbon to be deposited on the Carbon Copy. On paper, you could get away with two, three, or even four copies being made. With email, there isn't the same level of fading and faintness of the copies, and so the CC recipients will generally receive a perfect copy of the message! It's a bit like telling a story to someone, while several other people listen at the same time. You're telling the story to the one person who is the listener, but the other people are party to the telling of the story. However, one of the things about CC is that all of the people can see all of the other people, and it's almost as if they are all introduced to each other, implicit in your telling of the story.

BCC: This is "Blind Carbon Copy". Like Carbon Copy, where all of the people involved can hear the story, but this is more like telling a story in the dark, where your audience can hear what you say but can not find out who each other are.

An email always has a "From" and a "To", but may have any number of CC and/or BCC recipients, (but this is sometimes limited arbitrarily by ISPs who don't understand the spam problem properly).

HAZARDS OF SENDING TO MULTIPLE RECIPIENTS IN THE "TO" FIELD rather than using BCC

When sending an email message to a lot of people at the same time, if all the recipients are in the "TO" field, there can be a problem. Not only do the friends all have to be honest themselves, but all of their computers have to be free of any viruses and spyware! The more people who are in the recipient list the more risky it gets. If you send a message to five people you know personally, you'll almost certainly not have any problems. But if you send a message to eighty people who you vaguely know by having met them a while back, and you send the message with all of the email addresses in the "TO" field, you are in serious risk of something going wrong. If something goes wrong, everyone on the list will suffer for it. If only one person in the group is a reckless spam list compiler, every person on the list will end up on the spam list! Or, if just one person on the list has a virus in their computer, even if they don't know about it, then all of the people on the list may be subject to virus attacks or to divulging of information, or any of a number of other hazards.

BCC in practical usage

When I send out the Circulars, newsletters announcing the new issue of Zyra's website, I send the message to a few hundred people at the same time, but I write as if addressing you personally. [newsletter example]. What you receive is a curious message rambling on in some depth telling you about all the new stuff that's on this site, but at the top you can see it's apparently From ZYRA, to "Everyone On The Circular List". True, it is actually from Zyra, and you can reply if you like. But the TO field where it says "Everyone On The Circular List" is a special test address to verify the message is being transmitted. In the background, the hundreds of people receiving the message are actually in the BCC field, and so, fortunately, will not all find out everyone else's email address!

It is reassuring when going to a theatre, to know that it isn't commonplace practice for your personal business card to be duplicated and a copy given to everyone else there!

How to do BCC

Even if you don't feel like sending out a message to a great many people, it's still worth knowing how to use BCC when you need it. You can nominate people to be witness to a message without the person on the receiving end knowing this.

In most email sending programs (email clients), you have a FROM field and a TO field and also a CC field. BCC is sometimes an afterthought, but you can access it by clicking on the box hidden behind the word "CC". This then gives you a choice of contacts whom you may CC or BCC. There's usually some fancy "Select here" type of thing which gives you the chance to add people into the appropriate CC and/or BCC selections.

What happens when you BCC

Anyone in the TO and the CC field will all get to know who else is in the TO and CC field, but not who is in the BCC field. All of the people in the BCC field will know about the publically known TO and CC, but will not know about each other. All of the recipients will know the message came from you, but they will not know who the other recipients are, or how many of them there are, etc. If any of them reply, you will receive their comments, but even if they "REPLY ALL", it will not go to the other people in who were in the BCC field.

People who talk to themselves by email

As a schizophrenic myself, I sometimes talk to myself. I've tried phoning myself up, but the phone is usually engaged because someone is using the phone! But with e-mail, even quite sane people are seen to talk to themselves, apparently. You can see this, because when you receive the message it's got the person's name in the "FROM" field and also in the "TO" field. What they've done is to send the message to themselves and BCC it to all of the people who they'd like to receive it. You can't find out who all the other people are, but don't be too sad about that, because neither can all the other people find out whom you are!

Other points of Interest

In an e-mail stored at the sender's computer, for example in a "Sent Items" folder, it is possible to look at the source code and headers and find out who all the recipients are, including all those in CC and in BCC. This is useful if you are trying to rebuild a contact list and all you've got to go on is some old messages which you sent some time ago. (The same doesn't apply on the recipient's computer, obviously, or the idea of BCC would be seriously compromised).

Nothing Sinister Going On

You don't often hear Zyra say that! Almost everything is suspicious, and things are sometimes remarkable by having a level of suspiciousness higher than the background level of suspiciousness which everything generally has. However, with BCC, there is nothing particularly sinister about it. Even though it might seem a bit cloak-and-dagger sending messages secretly to nominated eavesdroppers who have been added to a clandestine list, the BCC feature doesn't provide any extra secret functionality. To explain this, imagine you received a physical p-mail letter from someone who you know, and it was signed properly and had the correct postage on it... How could you tell if the letter had been photocopied and sent out to a few other people as witnesses to the sending of the letter? You can't tell. Also, if you see a letter reproduced in a newspaper, written to The Editor, you can't tell how many other people are reading the same newspaper, or who they are, etc. BCC is only this kind of thing, but in email. What's important in email is knowing who the SENDER is and being able to reply. If you don't know who the sender is, or you aren't allowed to reply, there's a reasonable assumption it is SPAM! It's part of the definition of spam to some extent. BCC doesn't give spam senders any powers they haven't already got, and it certainly doesn't hide the sender.

I'm more keen to hide the recipient. If you are receiving too much e-junkmail, but you'd still like to receive honest messages from people who you'd like to write to you on your website, you may be interested in this email hiding method

Another question which has arisen before in the BCC business is: What if you receive an e-mail which has gone TO a lot of people all in plain view, and you want to reply to ALL but you don't want to propagate everyone's e-mail address in your reply? It would be nice if you could do a BCC ALL, a bit like a REPLY ALL except that it's BCC!


Other relevant references at this site: Zyra.info , about e-mail , truths generally not known about , alternative method to defeat spam , how to hide your email address on a website , similarly clever things to do with the phone, and the general Full Site Index of other interesting things at this site! Also available in a different order. BCC not to be confused with BBC