Using the CC and BCC Fields in E-mail

from the March 2002 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

If you're reasonably new to e-mail, you may not be familiar with how to use your e-mail program's CC and BCC fields. This small article will look at what these fields mean and how to use them specifically in Outlook Express.

The CC Field

When you click the "Create Mail" or "New Mail" button in your e-mail program, whether it's Outlook Express or not, no doubt you've noticed the CC field. CC stands for Carbon Copy. You would normally use this field to include the e-mail address of someone you wanted to receive a copy of the e-mail you are sending. For example, if you were part of a work team and you were e-mailing your boss about something, you would put your boss's e-mail address in the e-mail's "To" field, and if you wanted your workmates to be aware of that e-mail, you might put their e-mail addresses in the "CC" field. Your e-mail would then be sent to both your boss and your workmates at the same time. All recipients would be able to see exactly who the e-mail was sent to (in this case the boss) and they would be able to see everyone that received a copy of the e-mail. The picture below demonstrates how Outlook Express displays information about who the e-mail was sent to. In this case I sent an e-mail to myself, and copied it to my friend Norrie. I can clearly see that in the Outlook Express display. The snapshot is taken from the grey bar just above the Outlook Express display window.

The e-mail's headers also tell me that the message was sent to rob@actrix.co.nz and copied to norrie@actrix.co.nz at the same time.

From: "Rob Zorn" <editor@actrix.co.nz>
To: <rob@actrix.co.nz>
Cc: <norrie@actrix.co.nz>
Subject: test

(You can check an e-mail's headers in Outlook Express by right-clicking on the e-mail in your inbox and leftclicking on Properties.)

The BCC Field

Okay, so what if I want to send an e-mail to someone, and copy it to someone else, but I don't want the person I'm sending it to to know that someone else is receiving a copy? That's where the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field is used. Most of the time you would use the BCC field when you are being sneaky about something. If you were having a dispute with a colleague and you wanted to copy your boss in on your e-mail dealings with that colleague, but you didn't want your colleague to know you were doing that, then you would put your boss's e-mail address into the Blind Carbon Copy field (after checking on relevant privacy laws). I use the BCC field when I am dealing with someone and for whatever reason I want to keep a copy of the e-mail on another computer. If so, I would send the e-mail with an e-mail address in the BCC field that is only checked by the computer I want the copy of the e-mail on. It's easier for me to hide the fact that I am doing that than to explain to whoever as to why I cam copying someone else in on the e-mail. I'm not being sneaky; it's just more convenient for me not to have to explain.

So, who sees what?

You have to be careful using the BCC field if you're being sneaky. Plenty of people mix up which e-mail address goes where and end up revealing their sneakiness to the very person they were trying to conceal it from. By the way, I'm not endorsing sneakiness here. The BCC field has legitimate uses and it's up to you to decide when it's appropriate to use.

Using the hypothetical example above. If I put rob@actrix.co.nz into my e-mail's "To" field, and norrie@actrix.co.nz into the BCC field, then Rob would receive the e-mail, but would not know that Norrie has been copied in. Norrie will receive an e-mail in his inbox that doesn't have his e-mail address on it. Instead it appears as below.

Now if Norrie sees that, he should right away be able to tell that his e-mail address has been put into the BCC field. It's pretty obvious as an e-mail has appeared in his inbox that is clearly addressed to someone else. This may ring a bell for some of you who have noticed you have received Spam messages that don't appear to be addressed to you. Obviously they are being sent to someone else and your e-mail address has been included in the BCC field.

As I said above, Rob would not know that Norrie had been copied in on the e-mail, even if he checked the headers. The headers on his e-mail would simply omit any mention of who was included in the BCC field.

If Norrie checked the headers on his version, he would see something like the following:

Received: by ragas.actrix.co.nz (mbox norrie)
Delivered-To: norrie@actrix.co.nz
Message-ID: <011201c1b34d$48eed570$4d1560cb@ZORNCAT>
From: "Rob Zorn" <editor@actrix.co.nz>
To: <rob@actrix.co.nz>
Subject: test BCC

This information tells him that the e-mail was delivered to him (Norrie) even though it was addressed to someone else (Rob), a clear sign that his e-mail address was in the BCC field.

If that is too confusing, then perhaps we can simplify it as follows. If you don't want someone to know that the e-mail to them is being copied to someone else, put their e-mail address in the "To" field. The person who's e-mail address you put into the BCC field will know what is going on.

Accessing the BCC Field

Outlook Express does not display the BCC field for e-mails by default. To get the BCC field to appear,  open up a fresh new e-mail. Click the View Menu and then click a tick next to "All Headers" in the drop down menu. From now on all your new e-mails will have the BCC field included by default. To stop the BCC field from appearing, just click the View menu again in a freshly opened e-mail and click to remove the tick.