Mad, Beautiful Ideas
E-Mail Privacy Notices - Such a Waste

I remember years ago when e-mail signatures were supposed to short, three or four lines short, and having a signature that approached (or God-forbid exceeded) the number of lines in the actual message was considered downright rude. These days, that seems to have changed, and partially that's fine. Most people today have access to a lot more bandwidth, and so the few extra bytes necessary to put more useful information in an e-mail is worthwhile.

Today, I have two e-mail signatures at work, the 'formal' one, which I use when starting e-mail threads, and the default one which I use when responding to someone or adding my input to a going thread.


        Jeff Craig
        Information Technology Specialist II
        Office of the Registrar
        Washington State University - Pullman
        Ph: 509 335 5033


        Jeff Craig | ITS II
        Office of the Registrar
        Washington State University

And this is less than a lot of people. Hell, one page I've seen suggests putting your e-mail address in your e-mail signature. That's just redundant right there. A website address isn't a bad idea, and when I get my Consulting business' website finished, my business e-mail will include that URL as well, but your e-mail address? Really?

But one bit that we've been asked to include, which I do only because they've made it a requirement, is the privacy notice at the bottom of all our e-mails.

This communication may contain privileged, non-public or other confidential information. If you have received it in error, please advise the sender by reply email and immediately delete the message and any attachments without copying or disclosing the contents. Thank you.

This 274 character monstrosity bothers me a lot more than it probably should. It's only 274 characters, the space to store and send it is fairly negligible. I mean, it takes nearly 4000 e-mail messages (encoded in ASCII or UTF-8) for that quantity of data to add up to even a single megabyte. However, for a decent sized institution, 4000 e-mail messages can be generated in a surprisingly short amount of time. And ours, is frankly short compared to this gem:

This message (including any attachments) is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is non-public, proprietary, privileged, confidential, and exempt from disclosure under applicable law or may constitute as attorney work product. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any use, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, notify us immediately by telephone and (i) destroy this message if a facsimile or (ii) delete this message immediately if this is an electronic communication. Thank you.

That beast is 684 characters, and would take a mere 1500 messages to reach that 1 Megabyte limit I mentioned.

But while these things do waste a lot of bandwidth every year, that isn't really what bothers me the most. What bothers me, is that they mean absolutely nothing. If you send an e-mail to me, or anything else for that matter, particularly if it's unsolicited I can do whatever I want with it, and you can do nothing about it. If I order one thing, and you send me five, that's your problem. If you mistype a client's e-mail address, and I accidentally recieve something you didn't want published, the only thing preventing me from publishing it is me.

The only way you can prohibit me from doing what I please with any communication I've recieved is through either a) a contract (which this bullshit notification at the bottom of an e-mail is not), or b) market pressures. You can obviously choose to alter the way you do business with me (or choose not to do business with me at all) if I've disseminated information you didn't want me to, but the improper disclosure belongs to you, the person who sent the e-mail. Not me, the person who received it.

All I'm asking for is reasonableness. I know people don't consider the value of bandwidth, and e-mail is such a tiny offender compared to many other internet uses today, but such things do add up quickly. And why waste the bandwidth, screen real estate, and thought on such a message that carries with it no meaning? 99% of people are not going to be sharing e-mails that they receive in error, and the rest, are going to do it whether you beg and plead or not.