When you add multiple addresses in the "To" line of an email sent from Gmail, every recipient sees not only your message content but also the other email addresses to which you send your message. This can be problematic because most people prefer not to have their email addresses shared widely, and post GDPR this can land you in a lot of trouble. If you move the addresses to the Cc field, the effect is the same; they just appear on a different line.
The correct way is to use the BCC field. Bcc stands for Blind Carbon Copy, "blind" meaning Bcc recipients are hidden from view and "carbon" being a throwback to the olden days when people made copies by writing things on carbon paper. Any address entered in this field is hidden from all other recipients.
Each recipient listed in the BCC field receives a copy of the email, but no one listed in the BCC field can see the names of the other recipients, which protects everyone's privacy. Nobody except you and the BCC recipients knows that they were sent a copy of the email. Their email addresses are not exposed.
The only caveat is that you have to enter something in the "To" field. The best solution for this is to send the email to yourself, and BCC everybody you want to receive your message.
Here's how to address a message in Gmail to Undisclosed recipients with all email addresses hidden.
- Click Compose in Gmail to start a new message. You can also press c if you have Gmail keyboard shortcuts enabled.
- In the To field, type Undisclosed recipients < followed by your Gmail address and a closing >. For example, if your Gmail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, you'd type
Undisclosed recipients <email@example.com>.
- Click Bcc.
- Type the email addresses of all intended recipients in the Bcc field. Separate the names by commas.
- Enter the message and its subject.
- Add any formatting using the toolbar at the bottom of the compose screen.
- Click Send.
Using Contact Groups
If you have a list of contacts whom you email regularly in Gmail, you can use that feature to send an Undisclosed Recipients email.
Access your contacts list and create a bulk email as you normally would. Notice that Gmail automatically places all the email addresses in the "To" field. However, you can highlight each one by holding down the "Ctrl" key and clicking each email address. Then click and drag the group of addresses toward the BCC title and place it in the BCC field, and proceed with the rest of your email.
This method cannot be used to send out large mailings. According to Google, free Gmail is meant for personal use, not for bulk mailing. If you attempt to add the addresses of a large group of recipients in the Bcc field, the entire mailing may fail.
Benefits of Using 'Undisclosed Recipients'
The primary benefit of sending out your emails to Undisclosed Recipients are:
- Privacy for the people who receive the email. Concealing their email address is a professional way to handle the privacy problems inherent in group emails.
- Avoids email filters so your recipient sees the email.
- Reduces junk mail.
- Protects your recipients from spammers.
You don't have to call your group Undisclosed Recipients. You could name it something like Social Project Staff Members or Everyone at X, Y, and Z Company.
What About Reply All?
What happens when one of the Bcc recipients decides to reply to the email? Does a copy go to everyone in the Bcc field? The answer is no. Email addresses in the Bcc field are copies of the email only. If a recipient chooses to reply, he can only reply to addresses listed in the To and Cc fields.
When Shouldn't You Use Bcc?
While useful, the problem with Bcc is that it skates a fine line between being private and being sneaky.
You should avoid Bcc for:
- Work correspondence: Because transparency is crucial for productive communication, using Bcc in work correspondence comes off as shady and degrades trust in the confidentiality of email.
- Snitching: Bcc'ing your boss when emailing a colleague. If you have a problem with a colleague email your manager directly.
- Group and Social Inviations: Bcc'ing only a select few on a party invite can be insulting because it gives the impression that you're ashamed to be inviting them. Most people on the list know each other and being transparent with your guest list has the added bonus of preventing your recipients from asking acquaintances if they were invited, which is awkward for everyone if they weren't.