Email disclaimers

We’ve all seen these at the bottom of an email.  There are many variations on the theme, but generally they go something like this:

The information contained in this e-mail message is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient(s) named above. This message is privileged and confidential. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient or an agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you have received this document in error and that any review, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail, and delete the original message.

Now I find this amusing on several levels.  Let’s list them, shall we?

1. “if the reader is not the indended recipient” – wow, is that as silly as it seems?  When was the last time  you even heard of an email system delivering an email to somebody other than the address listed at the top?  Now this isn’t to say that people don’t sometimes send an email to the wrong person, but that only happens when the sender puts in the wrong email address.  As a recipient, all email to my email address comes to ME, and I have no way of knowing (except perhaps by context) if the sender actually intended to send it to somebody else.  So, there is simply no way for me (or anyone) to comply with directives like this.

2. Let’s say that your server has a massive problem and does in fact deliver emails to incorrect inboxes.  Sure, it’s far-fetched, but work with me on this.  A person receives a confidential email in error with all kinds of juicy information.  Are they really going to read the disclaimer and say to themselves “oh dear, I should delete this”.  Really?  What planet are these disclaimer writers on?  I’ll tell you what will happen: The person will read the email, and make maximum personal use of the information in it.  They might even share it with selected friends so they can benefit too.  Welcome to the real world.

Bottom line: This provides NO protection at all to emails which end up in dishonest hands.  So why bother?  Just because other companies do it doesn’t make it clever.  Let’s all try to stop being stupid together.