In our modern world, we love the convenience and timeliness of email and instant messaging platforms. They have allowed for a greater ease of near instant communication globally than ever before. Like all communication, regardless of form, it only remains beneficial through the ways we apply it. Online interactions need to be thought of in the same ways we treat our real-world interactions.
The most important thing to first keep in mind about online interactions is that what you write and publish is permanent. It is no different than writing something down in ink in the real world. As soon as you save or send an email, or send an IM, it is also permanent. It exists in most cases, forever, even if you delete it. It is stored on a server, somewhere in the world.
Keeping in mind that permanency; never at any time should Internet users send private information via email or IM. It may seem like email is completely secure and that nobody can break into personal or work email accounts, but it happens every single day. Things like user names and passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information, and social security numbers — none of them should be sent via email. These sorts of information are best left to a quick thirty-second phone call. Having that kind of information sitting in someone’s email account is a recipe for disaster. All it takes is that inbox to be compromised by a hacker for everything to be taken.
As a general rule, just as in real life, if you’d second-guess revealing information in public while in person, or if you wouldn’t want everyone to know a certain piece of information, then it has no place in an email, on IM or the Internet in general. It’s better left said in person.
So what should be transmitted via email then? There are some basic principles that should be kept in mind prior to sending anything:
- Threats, harassment, and inappropriate conversation have no place in email or IM. It is also a good standard to avoid controversial conversation topics such as politics, sexuality, and religion — you can never been too sure when such conversations will offend, or be taken as harassment. In the case someone respectfully asks that you stop a certain path of discussion, or feels a conversation is inappropriate — you are to stop all messages immediately.
- A mass email is a message you and a long list of people have received at the same time, from a mutual friend. They’re usually shared emails containing jokes, stories, or other sometimes useful information. They can be enjoyable, but only when we put the proper forethought to if and how we share them. Mass emails go out to a lot of people, most of whom may not know they’re about to get a mass email. They can be further inconveniencing to recipients because they can interrupt and bother people during busy workdays. The other point to mass email forethought is the address field used. When you send an email, and you include a number of email addresses in the “To:” field, all the people receiving that email can see each other’s’ email addresses. For some, that’s incredibly invasive and a violation of their privacy. It’s the same as someone giving your address or phone number to someone you don’t know. To be considerate, and safe, for all parties, the “BCC:” (blind carbon copy) field should be used. It hides all other addresses except the receiving party’s from each other.
- Interactions on the Internet should be treated like private conversations between friends. If you don’t think you’re supposed to repeat the information you read in an email, much like you wouldn’t tell a friend’s secrets and personal information, then you should never forward it.
This is an excerpt from the Global Knowledge white paper, Human Vulnerabilities in Our Current Threat Landscape.