Fwd: Email at your own risk

A couple of days back, my 10 year old daughter received an email from a stranger asking her: “Why are you creating spam??” And this seemed to be in response to an email she’d sent (Fwd:) to some of her friends, and not him!

She showed it to me wondering what spam was, and why this person who she’d never heard of before, was writing to her email ID and asking this question?

Well, she echoed my thoughts exactly (except I knew what spam was). How and where did this guy get my daughter’s “Forwarded” email, and her ID? I checked the email in question in her “sent mail” folder, and I discovered she sent it out three months back – and no, she hadn’t sent it to this guy’s email ID – just nine of her friends, all of whom she had BCC‘d.

It was one of those “FWD: Sad Wa____t Story! Please read!!!” type email which we as adults and veterans of email over the years had learnt to ignore as fake or junk, but my daughter and her ten year old friends believed and were forwarding to each other in good faith.

Since I hadn’t been able to convince (or force) her to stop forwarding these kind of email to all her friends, I had taught, and convinced her to use BCC, and clear all the other email addresses in the previously emailed versions of any email, so at least she wasn’t also sharing half a dozen email IDs with people all around!

Keen to get to the bottom of this mystery mail, I first “googled” the guy’s name, and email ID. The results showed him out to be some guy in a north Indian city, who posted loads of blustering-and-trying-to-be-clever comments on consumer forums, and review sites. Then I did some more investigation into his email history (I can’t tell you how) and traced the sending IP back to where his ‘mouthshut’ profile said he lived.

This confounded me further, because with every search I did, I couldn’t figure out the connection between him and us.

Then on a whim, I googled my own daughter’s email ID – and boom! there it was ~ my daughter’s forwarded email ~ result 2 of 5!

It turned out to be someone’s Google Buzz, and although the original page had been deleted, the cached version still existed online!

I went through the thread, and there it was – the route from private email to public spam, via Google Buzz!

From my daughter’s email ID to her “sixth floor in our building friend”, who sent it to 12 of her friends, one of whom sent it to someone, who “Buzzed” the email as worth a read!

And since my daughter uses BCC now and deletes the previous email routing , the trail started (or ended) with her and her email ID – indicating her as the source of this “spam” email!

Scary, eh? Well, this is what happens online. And if we’re not careful, we could end up in a lot more trouble than being accused by an self-righteous individual accusing you of spam!

So here are a few facts about email you probably don’t know:

Email Is Not Private Sending email, is like telling someone a secret. Once you’ve passed it on, it is no longer a secret, and its future is in the hands of the recipient – to respect and keep safe, or forward as is or even append suitably to suit their purpose.

Email Can Be Traced Back To Source There is no such thing as anonymous email. Every email ID is unique, and contains loads of information besides what you added to it – domain, travel route, source, etc. Some email routes can be tracked using freeware available online, and almost any email history and original sender can be traced by legal and extra legal experts.

You Are Liable For Your Email You Send Sending out an email, is like making a public statement, or putting something out in print – you become the owner of the statement, and are liable for the content contained therein – original or forwarded – rumour, slander, misrepresentation, abuse, confession, complaints, cribs, whatever. In many countries email is also admissible as proof in a court of law, and can be used against or for you depending on the case.

Official Email Can Be Read By Your Company, Officially One, since your “official” email ID is provided to you by your employers for the purpose of carrying on your “work” they have a right to access or read your email, as they can access your files on your official computer. Second, since they are the “service provider” and the email goes out under the company name, the company is liable and responsible for all email that goes out from their domain. So (mis)use official email at your own risk.

Email Is Permanent and Non-deletable So if you read this article and go back and delete some mail you’ve written, here’s more bad news – email is permanent in many ways. Deleting it from your computer or email account online, only destroys your copy of  it (visibly, that is). But copies of it exist with the person you sent it to, if it was posted/shared on the internet it exists there, and even if that page is removed, its likely that search engines like Google have cached it and will throw it up in searches!

So there you have it. Think before you email. Use it well, and it will serve you well.

  • Sumita Kale

    Amazing work, MT, thanks!

  • Aparna K

    can i share this?

  • Deepa

    Excellent and informative post! Well-written as usual.

  • Ashwini Raman

    very informative….wsn’t aware of this myself….cud I share this too?

  • Animesh

    Thanks this is very informative and useful. I will share it!

  • Aparna S

    Hey, that’s enlightening………..thanks!

    • Of course Aparna! The more people know about this, the better!

      And this is not spam 😉

  • Shailja Singh

    very enlightening and scary too

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