The Death of BCC?

In the age of Facebook, in an era where privacy and anonymity are a thing of the very distant past, quite a few “features” of technology have been banished from daily use, forced to languish in the corner in a sad state of disuse and disrepair. But perhaps none have suffered such a miserable and regrettable fate as the BCC.

Quick: if you’re fighting with a friend and want to let your BFF know what’s going on as you send your frenemy a nasty messsage — what’s the best way to pull that off?

If you’ve completed the switch to Facebook mindset, your convoluted answer would consist of something to effect “Send a message to X, copy and paste it, and send it to Y.” And you’d be right – Facebook doesn’t give you another way of pulling this off. FAIL!

Let’s say your technical skills are not in such a pitiful state and you have enough sense to still use email for day-to-day communications. What’s your answer then? “I’ll just send X an email, then forward my result to Y.” aaaaaaaaand that’s another fail.

See, there’s this oft-overlooked feature my commandline mail client from the 80s has that solves this. It’s called “Blind Carbon Copy,” or BCC for short. You can send an email to more than one person without all your recipients knowing who you sent it to!

Unfortunately, to use BCC it isn’t enough to just know about it and want to use it yourself – the people you’re BCCing in your emails need to have enough sense to look up at the “To:” line in their email client and find out what exactly is their role in this message. Are they the primary recipients of this email? Or perhaps they’re only officially in the loop, so that they can have a copy of this email for future reference and, if necessary, can step in when needed in the future? Or have they been BCC’d in the message – invisibly copied in on the contents of the email, because the sender wants them to see it without necessarily divulging this fact to the original recipient?

But if people don’t look to see what status they’ve been delegated to in this email, then it just doesn’t work. And unfortunately, those of us that do use BCC no longer can. Imagine this email below:

To: Margaret

BCC: Jane

Subject: The secret you told me about!

Dear Margaret,

I just wanted to say thanks for confiding in me. I was really sorry to hear about ________, hopefully things will work out.

Chin up!


Carl felt it would be OK to share this tidbit of info with Jane, his long time confidante. Margaret didn’t want anyone to know. Later that day, Jane sees Margaret at the supermarket, and before you know it:

Jane: Hey Margaret! How are you doing? Fancy seeing you here!

Margaret: Oh, hi Jane!

Jane: How’s the baby coming along?

Margaret: CAAAAARL!!!!

Yep. Because Carl hadn’t made it clear to Jane that Margaret didn’t know she knew, Jane figured everyone in the original conversation was “in on it.”

Given the unfortunately high percentage of people that fall into the same category as our Jane here, Carl just can’t use this technique any more. He simply can’t trust that Jane will have enough sense to realize she’s being invisibly BCC’d in the conversation, and has to result to this crude technique of letting her know:

To: Jane

Subject: FWD: The secret you told me about!

Hi Jane. This is a secret, Marge doesn’t know I told anyone! See you later!


To: Margaret

Subject: The secret you told me about!

Dear Margaret,

I just wanted to say thanks for confiding in me. I was really sorry to hear about ________, hopefully things will work out.

Chin up!


I’m always shocked to find “techie friends” just don’t get BCC. To illustrate the point, one of my more well-versed friends in the arcane art of email called me up the other day: “I just wanted to double-check – if I have a list of 400 people I need to email at once but I don’t want them all to know each other’s emails…. It’s possible with BCC somehow, right? And how?”

Shame, really. Rest in peace, BCC. You were a good friend and we had some great times together.

32 thoughts on “The Death of BCC?

  1. Your problem is, that you care how mentally fucked up people are.
    Let it go. Nearly all people are complete and utter retards. The only thing missing is them drooling on the floor and throwing feces.
    If you have accepted that, and accepted, that there are two kinds of human species: Us, and the cattle, then you will see things in a better light.

    Remember that old Zen idea, that everything is just a situation. And as long as you make the best of it, there?s no point in getting angry. Unless that really actually improves your situation. :)

    So? you walk trough the streets? and see *your* cattle, being controlled by their herd leaders. And you?re the cowboy. The true leader. So act accordingly. Know them in and out, and make them go wherever *you* want them to go. Which is easiest, by influencing their leaders. (The fatcats behind the big lobbies behind the politicians behind the media.)

    The science hasn?t really got a name, since most people are nothing more than alchemists in it, but those alchemists call themselves ?social engineers?.
    The science exists though, and can be learned like any other science.
    Learn it, divide, and conquer.

    And when you?re ready, we?ll meetm when the motto is ?There can only be one!? ^^

  2. Wrong “your” next to your caveat about Bcc. Should be “you’re”. If you write for a living, particularly writing about writing…

  3. BCC will get you burned if you use it in the workplace. If you consistently use BCC, at some point someone will not realize that they’re not in the “to” or “cc” list and they’ll reply-all, or they’ll mention the conversation in some venue where they wouldn’t be expected to know it. At that moment, your credibility will be lowered and people’s trust factor in you will be far lower (“careful with him – he’s the type of guy who bcc’s the boss”). That could really hurt your career. As a workplace sin, it’s similar to dialing in to a conference call you weren’t invited to and not announcing yourself.

  4. there’s at least 1 situation where BCC still works. when one is making an announcement to say, 50 people, BCC is useful, because when people reply but don’t pay attention to whom they are replying, i don’t get buried under the flames.

  5. I have a hard enough time explaining to people why to use BCC simply for the purpose of spam reduction. If you are sending an email to 400 people, it’s a matter of courtesy to send it via BCC, so that the 5-10% of those 400 who have a virus infection don’t unknowingly share that list of 400 people’s email addresses with the spammers.

    You are right though about people not paying attention to who the emails are addressed to and whether they are merely BCC’d. This problem was not caused by social media though, it’s been a problem from early on because people simply don’t always pay attention.

  6. Actually this is something that the younger generation don’t know about, while the older generation do. BCC was based on an old practice using *shock* actual snail mail where you used carbon copy paper to duplicate a letter and send it on to various people. Some people you told you sent it to (CC) and some people you didn’t (BCC). Ask any secretary who’s been around since before the age of computers and they understand the concept instantly!

  7. Barefoot, your problem is you give up. QOL means nothing. If we allow everything to sink to the lowest common denominator because we just don’t give a crap, it’ll just make a bad world worse. Don’t let it go. Strive for quality. Tilt at the windmill. Yeah, there are a lot of cattle, but there’ll be even more if everybody just accepts that’s the way it will be.

  8. BCC has never been reliable*. If you use it enough, someone will reply when or to whom they shouldn’t, and you get burned.

    * The one exception is if _every_ recipient is BCCed. That works well for newsletters and the like.

  9. That’s what you get for putting millions upon millions “computer illiterates” behind computers and telling them everything is “easy” and “intuitive” and forgetting to explain the very basics. Even in the rare case that there’s some teaching involved the teacher more likely than not really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. At all.

    Nowadays even admins and techies can’t be arsed to write a proper email reply, or even write usable emails in the first place. There’s seldom a request that can be handled right away because the most important details — often enough stuff you’d expect them to know would be needed if they’d thought for half a second — causing more follow-up emails. Put more than a single item in an email? Trigger “TL;DR”. And so on.

    Cue even tech journalists not being able to refrain from hitting “reply to all” with some angry tirade on an overly-enthousiastically Cced “newsletter”, even after fellow journalists have already reported the same mishap and derided it.

    Crackberries and like devices have only worsened the uselessness, both in volume and in content, of emailing. I’m now quite convinced nobody actually reads emails any longer. It’s therefore no surprise either that developers doing things touching upon email don’t know half of what they minimally ought to know. Many ticketing systems feature “email integration” that invariably turns out to be an euphemism for “treats email as a dumping ground”, as it’s always one-way and most of the time unreadable — sometimes there’s templates you can pound into some semblance of being usable but I haven’t seen defaults fit for purpose yet. Unless the purpose is “make automated form letters that look like spam”. By the by, does anyone here know what “Sender:” does, for example? Or even when to use To: and when to use Cc:?

  10. I think the real issue here is that margins and formatting in general are dead. That, and someone really wants to get some free publicity.

    I use BCC to include my strategist and lawyer when necessary. And those people know to look at the to and from fields because they are not fcking retards.

    Get some new friends/colleagues that are not fcking oafs.

  11. How in the hell did this inane blog post make it to the front page of Slashdot? My mistake for clicking on the link and RTFA for once, apparently.

  12. I see two things wrong here.

    One, you’re relying on someone else to take extra care to keep you out of the s**t. If you really can’t keep secrets to yourself, is it really a good idea to spread them around by a method so vulnerable to accidents? What happens if Margaret just happens to be over talking to Jane when the email arrives? What if your email sysadmin was doing routine checks, happens to be a good friend of Jane, and gets snoopy? Lots of ways this could turn against you. Don’t go there.

    Two, more importantly, you’re telling tales when you shouldn’t. I don’t care if Jane is a long-time confidante, you’re not respecting Margaret’s wishes on this and you deserve to get in the s**t over it.

    Other than newsletter type scenarios, I can’t actually think of a good reason why I should BCC any of my friends on an email to someone else. In the business world, maybe, but even then it’s gonna come back to bite you. It’d be far safer to take the time to forward your email to the BCC group explaining why they should know but the other people shouldn’t know that they know. “Strategist and lawyer”? Is there a good reason why the TO: people should *not* know that your lawyer’s aware of the conversation? Maybe it’s different in the US, but this sounds dodgy to me…


  13. My use of BCC is to prevent multi-destination message addresses from being read by spyware on compromised destination computers, this to reduce address leakage to spammers.i

  14. If I could make a suggestion about e-mail dispatched to multiple recipients?

    Instead of using the CC: (Carbon Copy) feature, I have found it best to use the BCC: (Blind Carbon Copy) feature.

    The former feature exposes everyone’s name and e-mail address to the SPAMBOTS, the software entities that prowl the entire Internet about a zillion times every nanosecond, vacuuming up clumps and clusters of vulnerable names and addresses, exposed when CC: is used instead of BCC: in e-mail.

    The latter feature hides the names and addresses instead of exposing these.

    Such clumps and clusters of names and addresses are very valuable commodities in today’s digital economy if you happen to be a scumbag spammer, in search of more material for even more gigantic lists to sell, trade or otherwise distribute.

    Usually, within a very few hours of having my e-mail address exposed with reception of a CC: based piece of e-mail, I receive very annoying spam and malware in my E-mail Client InBox.

    I hope this isn’t too technical for anyone.

  15. The bottomline is that most people are stupid retarded assholes that don’t know shit about tools and how to use them for the benefit of themselves let alone others. You assume too much about the intelligence of the average below average achiever which is most of the Facebook and otherwise social networking world. The LCD, or lowest common denominator for the fuckwads out there that are reading this and hoping for an education, is the demise of our civilization and the have nots don’t know it.

  16. I use BCC all the time for sending messages to multiple recipients, when those recipients don’t necessarily need to know the entire distribution. I never even considered SPAM. To me, use of BCC is a courtesy to the recipients, as it protects their privacy when they might not otherwise have the other recipients addresses.

  17. @Len:

    “My use of BCC is to prevent multi-destination message addresses from being read by spyware on compromised destination computers, this to reduce address leakage to spammers.i”

    And you’re as certain as you can be that your own machine isn’t already compromised?

  18. Did anyone mention those BCC’d will not be refered to when a ‘to’ or ‘CC’ recipient replies to all. Making it a useful tool to inform initially, while excluding BCC’d contacts from the minutia of further discussion. BCC the boss.

  19. @eDrifter:

    “Did anyone mention those BCC’d will not be refered to when a ‘to’ or ‘CC’ recipient replies to all. Making it a useful tool to inform initially, while excluding BCC’d contacts from the minutia of further discussion. BCC the boss.”

    That’s the one I couldn’t remember!

  20. BCC is still useful, but unfortunately the people who designed the email programs didn’t examine the real life snail mail use case properly and think about the repercussions of an electronic implementation.

    If mail programs only allowed a reply all to recipients on the to: or cc: list, bcc: people would have to copy the recipient list into a new mail to reply all. This would highlight to people they were bcc’d in the first place, and make them wonder why hitting reply all wasn’t working…

  21. To Barefoot and Anonymous,

    Yes, there are still those of us who are determined to *NEVER* become cattle (and/or sheep), but the way I see it, if more and more online services – particularly webmails – do not provide BCC on default, more and more people will never get to know the existence of BCC, and will never get to understand how useful BCC really is !

  22. I don’t think Bcc should be used to rant / chat / whatever behind peoples backs[1]. That’s shitty behaviour in real life and it’s shitty behaviour if done via email.
    Bcc has lots of other uses, for example it’s useful in ordner to not disclose the email address of every recipient to the other ones, in which case you might actually add a line “Bcc: Carl, John, Seppl” in your mail, so the recipients will know, to whom that mail was sent. This is done (also with Cc) in snail mail, where all that stuff (carbon copy, bilnd carbon copy) originates from anyway.


    [1] Carl is an a**hole.

  23. We bought a live pub quiz entertainment business from a guy who was tired and just wanted out. A critical part of the deal was the full e-mail list of about 1,000 trivia players, so we could inform them of special deals, new locations, and such.

    When our purchase was announced, some of the trivia employees were upset that they weren’t offered the company, so they left and formed their own company.

    The problem was that the former owner was a Luddite and used CC instead of BCC on mails, and included his employees on all his communications. Yup, you guessed it; the disgruntled employees that left had every single e-mail address and used that to promote their own game and steal our market share, essentially zeroing the value of a business asset we paid for.

    As a result, there are now 3 viable pub quiz companies in the region formed on the backs of this gold mine of e-mail addresses, and all because the former owner didn’t use BCC.

    (We’re doing okay now. This was ages ago, and many of the addresses have gone stale, but we’re still sort of bitter about it. We definitely use BCC.)

  24. While I agree with barefoot about the intellect of the common person, I have to say you take a rather childish view of it. Ultimately the human race makes strides forward only because of the system of oppression and desire to fight it. There is tremendous room for improvement in this system through any number of mechanisms, the one stated being nothing more than the tried and true method to move forward at a snail’s pace. If you start seeing people as carriers of the same genetic information that comprise yourself to a greater or lesser extent you could work toward enhancing it globally with modern tech and the mechanisms of control that are already in place. Instead you have a bunch of overly self confident retards smirking at how they can game the system when none of the other chimps are able to without even possessing the foresight required to see that your children, by the result of your efforts in the present time, will ultimately be those simple minded chimps flinging shit at one another. The modern system is a cycle, the poor are forced to become wiser in order to survive and through successive generations overpower the overly complacent and degenerate genes found at the top of the pool. If you simply were to utilize the power you obtain for the mutual benefit of everyone you would secure the future of your progeny along with helping widen the gap between man and ape in general.

  25. I use it only in a working context to send a massage to my boss, so he knows about all the stuff i’m doing the whole day. Luckily he knows that hes beeing BCCed…

  26. So … you want lazily divulge deep secrets *by email* and people are making that hard for you because you actually need to EXPLAIN to them that you’re breaking a confidence? Silly people assuming you have integrity!

    I think this problem will solve itself once your friends realize how unreliable you are with their secrets and stop sharing them with you.

    How this is Facebook’s fault is beyond me …

  27. Great article. Very true.

    The problem probably started when popular Microsoft clients and webmail clients, looking to save screen real estate, removed it by default from the “compose” view. Try finding it in your business version of Outlook – you need to click on To or CC and then add something to the Bcc line at the bottom of the dialog box, just for it to show up in the main compose-mail view.

    When technical people sat down with PINE or ELM, they figured out To, and Cc was understood pretty fast, and then at one point, if nobody told them, they simply tried out Bcc with a friend to figure out what it was (or if it was post-Google days, they searched for it).

    If you can’t see it, you can’t get curious about it.


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