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Tales of Email Misdirection - Articles Surfing
It's wise to remember how easily email -- this wonderful technology -- can be misused and misdirected, sometimes unintentionally, with serious consequences. Unless you are using encryption, the privacy of your message cannot be guaranteed nor the authenticity of your correspondent.
Consider the case of a man who left the snow-filled streets of Chicago for a vacation in sunny Florida. When he reached his hotel, he decided to send his wife a quick email, who was planning to meet him there the next day.
Unfortunately, when typing her address, he missed one letter, and his note was directed instead to an elderly preacher's wife whose husband had just passed away. When the grieving widow checked her email, she took one look at the monitor, let out a wail, and fell to the floor in a faint.
At the sound, her family rushed into the room and saw this email note on the screen:
"Dearest Wife, Just got checked in. Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow. P.S. Sure is hot down here."
What actually hurts here is that the email was not being intercepted but rather, inadvertently directed to the wrong location. The nickname feature in many mailers can cause accidental emails being sent to co-workers instead of family members, or vice-versa. It's a strange new kind of miscommunication, where you can misdirect emails a dozen times before lunch. At least with misdialed phone numbers it becomes apparent after a few moments and you usually stop before saying too much. With email, it is now possible to quickly send a completely coherent message that is nonetheless nearly incomprehensible to a mistaken recipient.
Bigger mistakes can come from an accidental *reply* or even worse, *reply all* instead of *forward*. A recent example would be when a congressional staffer accidentally hit *reply all* when intending to forward a comment to fellow staffers on a *Support the Captive Primate Safety Act* email he*d received from an animal rights group. The original email was supporting legislation to prohibit the keeping of primates such as monkeys and great apes as pets, and asking for co-sponsors to protect not only animals but humans as well, as there are inherent dangers in keeping such pets. The staffer's comment was meant to be funny, and read: *Does this deal with those kids out in Ohio(?) who were kept in cages?* However, this email went out to the legislators behind the Captive Primate Safety Act instead of being forwarded as an inside *joke*, leading to a very sticky political exchange.
Other instances of email misdirection puts organizations In legal and/or financially risk, causing a number of compliance issues. A 2005 Harris Interactive* for Fortiva poll, shows that 68 per cent of U.S. employees who use email at work have sent or received email via their work email account that could place their company at risk.
While all these examples may be a good arguments as to why you should disable the *reply all* function altogether, the fact remains that the way a standard, unprotected email is sent out is very akin to the mailing of a postcard. With the wrong address attached there is nothing, not even an envelope, to dissuade an unintended recipient from reading about, for instance, the naughty things you did while in Vegas. Even worse, the mistaken recipient can in turn *reply* and you could be end up with unsolicited correspondences for the lifetime of that email address.
Use it wisely, and email is indeed a wonderful tool. Email is fast, easy to use and has become a cultural method of propelling personal and business communication. The bottom line is this - do not trust confidential information to email unless you are using security such as encryption or rights management. Whether it's due to misdirected email or breach of email etiquette, your email could be exposing yourself to more than you know.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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