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SALT LAKE CITY -- When you open up your email client and view your inbox and if it is anything like mine, you will probably see several headings such as:

  • Fw: Beautiful pictures
  • Fw: Fw: Hilarious!
  • Fw: Fw: Fw: Albino Moose
  • Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Virus! This is not a hoax! There might be a few legitimate, important emails scattered in between, but those fw:s seem to be breeding like rabbits in my inbox. It is also often a harbinger of opinionated, whimsical, or cautionary content to follow. This prefix is attached before the subject name of any email that is forwarded from one inbox to another.

While the forward function is an invaluable tool for Internet communications, it is often abused by well- meaning individuals who want to share something they found interesting. Everything from cute pictures, to virus warnings, to political commentary tend to alight for a brief period of time in their inbox.

Then, with several rapid mouse clicks, the content continues on its way to every email address stored in the user's address book.

As a matter of personal preference, I like to keep my inbox minimal. Thus I know that every email listed requires a reply, or some other action. The constant barrage of trivial communications throws a kink in that strategy. All of my efforts to contact the perpetrators and ask them to stop spamming me are usually as effective as signing up for the government's "Do not call" list; that is to say, not at all. I am part of someone's behemoth distribution list that can only be added to, but never shortened. Like the fruitcake that was regifted to me at Christmas time, I didn't ask for these emails. I don't want them. And, unlike the fruitcake, I won't be passing them on.


In spite of the many urgent messages, my hard drive hasn't yet been burned to a crisp by a nefarious "holiday card for you" attachment. No one has used a tennis ball to unlock and steal my car. There is still no concrete evidence that Proctor and Gamble is in league with the devil. And even though I didn't forward any of those messages warning me of the dire consquences of failing to send it to on to 10 people, I am still here to rant about the annoyances of viral emails.

Please don't get me wrong, I do find the animal pictures and the amazing sidewalk chalk displays entertaining. I may even have forwarded one or two of them along to select individuals; but on the whole, the mass regifting of viral emails is irresponsible at best, and outright dangerous at worst.

There are risks that would-be forwarders should be aware of. Not the least of these is the inadvertant distribution of personal information.

Let me give an example. I opened one of the many "Fw:" emails in my inbox and selected one of the email addresses that get added to the header each time someone passes it to all of their friends and family members. With a simple Internet search, I was able to match a name to the email address. With the name, I was quickly able to find the person's age, address, phone number, and a long list of friends, family members, and other possible relatives. In some states, that information could even be used to easily find the person's birthday, political affiliation, and the date that they last voted. It's amazing what power a few alphnumeric characters can have.

Additionally, these long lists of email addresses can easily be harvested by spammers, resulting in even more unwanted junk mail in your inbox.

Another security risk involves file attachments. Most computers are protected by anti-malware software; however, anytime an email contains an attachment, there is a risk that it may be infected, and even the most aggressive antivirus programs are not 100 percent effective. When the email originates from someone that we do not know, the possibility of contamination by worms, trojans, viruses, or other malware is much higher.

Bandwidth consumption may also be an issue. While not as significant as it was in the days of dial-up, a 25MB video can still take time to download and eat up valuable storage space.

Bearing this in mind, I would like to offer a few suggestions for responsible email forwarding.

  1. Be sure that the people on your distribution list actually want to receive this type of email. I might enjoy hearing all about your world travels, neatly summarized in your digital Christmas card, but that does not necessarily mean that I want to receive all of the political propaganda that tends to make its way around the Internet.
  2. Be sure the content is appropriate. Even though he is in my contacts list, I don't think Father or Bishop Jones really wants to receive the same type of emails I might send to my old football buddies.
  3. Be sure the content is accurate. This is one of my greatest pet peeves. We thrive on sensationalism and the majority of the viral emails that navigate the Web are tailored to manipulate our emotions. Few, however, contain cold hard facts, and many are blatantly untrue. There are many tools readily available on the internet to verify the details.,, and exist for the very purpose of paring down the ignorance that can be spread so easily by a few button clicks.
  4. Remove all email addresses. Nearly every email program has a "Blind Carbon Copy" option, or BCC. Placing your target email addresses in this field will hide them from every other recipient. You will still need at least one address in the "To" field, and it is common to place your own here.
A little consideration can go a long way in protecting the personal information of your friends and family. Email is a valuable and useful tool, and everyone has their preferences of how to use it. Exercising responsibility in communicating with others can not only protect them from possible security issues, it can save you from being "that guy" that everyone rolls their eyes about when his name shows up in the "Sender" column.

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Gary Day


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