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BCC — Blind Carbon Copy, and its moral implications

The article by Itzy Sabo (see Internet References, below) suggests that there is a moral reason to avoid the use of BCC (Blind Carbon Copy, sometimes called Blind Co-Conspirators), but does not elaborate.  It goes on to suggest the main reason to avoid BCC is that one of the blind recipients may Reply-to-All without realizing that in so doing, they expose the fact that they were blind copied in the first place.  This can clearly be embarrassing to the original sender of the message.  Why would that be embarrassing?  That gets back to the moral question.  Here's a rule of thumb: whenever you get embarrassed, trace the causality back to something you did, and you'll probably find it was morally wrong.  In this case, the embarrassment over the use of BCC comes from violating implied privacy.  By addressing an email to someone, and possibly CC'ing (in a public way) some other people, you set the tone of the communication.  In a way, people "look around the room" to see who's in on the conversation as they ready themselves to receive the communication.  Later, when they realize additional people were "eavesdropping" on the communication, they feel upset at your trickery.

The article suggests avoiding the embarrassment by forwarding the message from your "sent" file.  True, this avoids embarrassment, but does it also satisfy the moral objection?  I say yes, but my view rests on a fine point: an email recipient's expectation of privacy.  In the BCC case, the public recipients expect they're all seeing the email together, and no one is seeing it with them.  This expectation is violated by the use of BCC, and that violation is exposed when one of the BCC recipients replies to all.  But (unless the body of the email explicitly asks for privacy) there is no expectation that the email will remain private in the future.  Days or weeks later, one of the public recipients of an email may reply or forward the email to a new person who was not an original recipient.  Does it matter that the person who forwards the email to a new person is the sender of the email and not one of the participants?  I say not, because in the original communication, the sender and all the public recipients share the communication together, and in that moment only expect some degree of privacy.  That expectation of privacy fades quickly, allowing any of the participants to pass the information to others.

Let's test the moral standing of the forward-from-sent approach using the "embarrassment test".  Suppose the sender fishes the email out of his "sent" folder, and forwards it to a new recipient.  It is typical to add a few words at the beginning, addressed to this new person, that might explain why they should be interested in this information.  Now suppose this person decides to copy the original recipients and paste them into the To: or Cc: field with his take on the matter.  The original sender is not embarrassed (or at least not as much) because the thread clearly shows that this new party to the conversation was not secretly copied, but rather explicitly sent the message after the fact, possibly with a good reason clearly stated in the thread.  Gone is the secrecy that shrouded the BCC method.

I would compare the difference between the BCC method and the forward-from-sent method to the following two scenarios: In scenario 1, person A invites his hidden co-conspirator, D, is into a conference room, and asks him to hide behind the drapes.  Then A publicly invites B and C into the room, and engages them in a conversation in which A imparts some valuable information to B and C, and, secretly, to D as well.  Later, D blabs about the meeting, to the astonishment of B and C.  "How did you know this information?" asks B.  "A asked me to hide in the room while he told you," D admits.  What a shock! Clearly, a trust was violated.  In scenario 2, person A imparts the news to B and C together, and then later tells D.  If D blabs about the information, he won't betray any trust, since B and C had no expectation that A would keep mum about the information forever.

Internet References

“Reply-to-All” Exposes Blind Co-conspirators, by Itzy Sabo