Saturday, October 30, 2004

Data protection watchdog distributes email mailing list (The Register)

It is staggeringly easy to accidentally send an e-mail to a large distribution list, placing the addresses in the "TO:" or the "CC:" field instead of the "BCC:" field. A number of incidents of this have led to significant consequences for the senders who have accidentally breached the privacy of the recipients. Recently, a customer loyaty program did this in Canada, resulting in a complaint to the federal Privacy Commissioner. (See PIPED Act Case Summary #277: Mass mailout results in disclosure of contest entrants e-mail addresses.) A large drug company did the same in the United States, leading to a significant penalty from the FTC. (See ACLU Knocks Eli Lilly for Divulging E-Mail Addresses: Site's prescription reminder reveals names of recipients.)

In a recent incident, slightly tinged with irony, the Dutch Data Protection Authority did the same thing:

Data protection watchdog distributes email mailing list | The Register:

"The Dutch Data Protection Authority (Dutch DPA), which supervises the compliance with acts that regulate the use of personal data, was rather red-faced this week when it sent out a newsletter with all of the recipients in the Cc: field instead of the Bcc: field.

DPA's news letter goes out to 4000 subscribers. The DPA, which supervises the compliance with the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act and the Dutch Municipal Database Personal Records Act, was lucky that 'only' a thousand subscribers received the letter, but it managed to make the mistake twice. In a message it apologised for sending the first letter, again putting all recipients to the Cc list, so a second apology had to be sent."

These happen so often that I think Outlook and other mail programs should have a function that asks if you are sure you want to send a message with more than five/ten/whatever recipients in the "CC:" field....

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