I received the following question just last night:
I received an email telling me that email petitions and chain letters use tracking software and cookies to collect email addresses from anyone who receives that email message. I was also told that email petitions aren’t acceptable by congress like a signed petition would be. Are both these items true?
Well, the first is false, and the second is true.
Tracking Emails and Tracking Software
The only way an email can be tracked is from one sender to the first recipient. If I send an email message to a friend, it is possible for me to be notified when they open the message. If my friend forwards the message to someone else, there is no way for me to tell that has happened; nor is there any way for me to receive the email address of that second recipient, or any recipient after that. So, no, there are no tracking programs of this sort.
BUT, Remember the concept “Six Degrees of Separation”? Erase email addresses before forwarding a message
The idea of “Six Degrees of Separation” says that everyone is 6 steps away from any other person on the planet. Which in my way of thinking means that we are all six steps or less away from a spammer. The problem here being that when people forward an email message they usually leave any previous email addresses in the message, too, plus most people add new addresses of their own when they forward the message. The best practice here is after you click FORWARD and before you click SEND make sure you erase/delete any email addresses that appear within the email message. That is, just before you click SEND, read through the message and erase any email addresses you find in the message. If you don’t, you never know who in the chain knows or is a spammer.
BCC: Blind Carbon Copy Hiding Email Addresses
When you are sending an email message to multiple recipients, use the BCC or Blind Carbon Copy feature to address your message. That is, use BCC instead of TO. An, if your email software says, “At least one recipient is required in the TO field”, then put your email address in the TO field, and everyone else in the BCC field. The BCC field hides the email addresses from the recipients. When the sender uses the BCC field to address an email message, the recipients of that message will see “undisclosed recipients” in the TO field or elsewhere in the message. If you can’t find the BCC feature in your email software, contact your email service provider and have them tell you how to access it. Or you can contact Skylarking and I will help you find the feature.
Email Petitions Don’t Work
That much is true. A genuine petition requires signatures and street addresses. Anyone can type a list of names and email addresses into a petition, but there is no way for the recipient to prove or disprove that those people participated in or knew about the petition. It is best that each individual person email or contact their representative directly, and not as part of some long list of names in an email message. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to include your street address in such a petition, since you never know if that message might eventually end up in the hands of a spammer or an identity thief. After all, most acts of identity theft are performed by the victims friends, co-workers, and family members.