Two recent incidents I've come across illustrate how big a problem unintended email transmission has become. One took place here in our office, where a publicist inadvertently cc'ed an IW senior editor on a strategy email to his boss. The other happened at Wired magazine, where a briefing document by Microsoft's PR firm about a journalist investigating Microsoft somehow ended up in that journalist's inbox (he turned around and immediately published it on the web, in case you're wondering).
Have you heard of similar horror stories, or have one of your own to share? Do you bother to include a disclaimer in your email, and if so, why?
More and more companies have started using these disclaimers, but as far as I can tell there's no legal basis to back them up.
In fact, consider the generic email disclaimer below which, incidentally, I copied and pasted from the bottom of a lawyer relative's email (with permission of course, not that it matters).
"The information transmitted herein is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. Any review, dissemination, retransmission or any other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information by persons or entities other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you received this in error, please delete the material from any computer without copying it, and notify the sender by reply so that our address record can be corrected."
Setting aside the irony that you first have to read it to know you weren't meant to read it, do these space-hogging statements actually do anything besides provide a bit of solely psychosomatic CYA?
First of all, consider that emails are often addressed incorrectly (as is all-too-possible using Outlook's auto-fill email address feature) so who's to say, if an email is addressed to you, that you're not the intended recipient?
Also, this disclaimer only says that the email "may" contain confidential material (but then again, it may not). It says that the review, retransmission etc. of the email is prohibited, but doesn't specify where this prohibition originates (as far as I can tell from my research, it's certainly not from any force of law).
And finally, whoever wrote this vague and toothless disclaimer actually asks the unintended receiver to "please" contact the sender. Please? Really? Maybe they think politeness will get them points with the judge?