The easiest, cheapest way to send an email that can be "signed"?
June 16, 2015 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I am needing a way to send an email template that will have a few paragraphs of text and a couple of fields, that the recipient to "sign" that they read it (by filling in NAME and DATE OF BIRTH fields, [and maybe another field or two]) and then hit "reply", allowing us to see that they did indeed type into those fields and what they typed. What is the quickest, easiest, free-est (or cheapest) way to do this? We would be sending this out of a Gmail account, if that matters. This need not be automated in any way as we expect to do this in volumes that can be handled manually.
posted by sourwookie to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Google forms, probably.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:47 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The short answer is "you can't", you have to send them a link that sent them to a website of your choosing where they 'sign' the form and authenticate somehow that's indeed them.
posted by kschang at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2015

Yep I'd definitely do this in Google Forms. Just embed all the text you want in the form description, add your fields as questions, and send it out as an email. When they respond, it will record to a spreadsheet that you can access.

But as kschang notes, this won't be authenticated or likely be legally enforceable. If you don't need that, it should be ok.
posted by brainmouse at 11:17 AM on June 16, 2015

I have sometimes done this just by using a regular e-mail. "By typing your name, the date, and e-mailing this back to me, you are agreeing to these terms." Whether that will be sufficient for your circumstance is something to ask your attorney.

This is not an authenticated digital signature, but lots of things that aren't authenticated digital signatures are still used and considered valid. I sign contracts with companies, including large publicly traded companies, and both parties "sign" by pasting a signature into a PDF document and e-mailing it. The circumstances surrounding the signature support the validity of the agreement. Again, whether that will work for you would be something to ask your attorney.
posted by alms at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hellosign and Docusign handle this. They may be more complex than what you're looking for but I would at least look into them to see if they do what you want. And here's a list of similar services.
posted by Tehhund at 11:23 AM on June 16, 2015

What's your definition of "signed"? Something that's enforceable by law? Or are you just trying to get someone to stick to something?

If it's the former, to be totally ironclad you'll need some kind of digital signature software like Docusign or Hellosign. If it's the latter, an email reply as suggested by alms would suffice.
posted by radioamy at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2015

Came in here to mention Docusign as well. It's been popping up everywhere I've had to sign stuff online (realtor, new job awhile back, etc).
posted by jquinby at 11:27 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used RightSignature's free trial when I just needed one document like that. Worked well and it was cool because the recipient has to use their mouse to actually "sign".
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:45 AM on June 16, 2015

Um, I do not believe that either Docusign or Hellosign has any particular legal status AT ALL.

For a "legal" signature: there are two issues. The first is whether it's a legally valid. That is, did the person who's supposed to be signing the document take some step that the law recognizes as accepting/authorizing/whatever the document?

That's going to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and if you want to enforce it, you need legal advice from a real lawyer who knows your situation. I'm not a lawyer AND I don't know your situation. I think that most places have adopted the standard that intentionally doing anything to affix an "electronic mark" to a document, with the intent that it be treated as a signature, constitutes a signature. But I could be off base about that, and anyhow I'm sure there are exceptions, both in terms of jurisdictions and in terms of the purposes for which they'll accept the "signatures".

A service may or may not be able to help you navigate where the signatures are legally valid. On the other hand, they have a built-in incentive to claim they're valid when they're not... and they're not your lawyer either.

The second aspect is the evidentiary value of the signature. That is, even if somebody's intentionally affixing a digital mark would be legally valid, can you prove appropriately that they did in fact affix such a mark? Forgery is a thing.

For evidentiary value, you can't beat a properly administered cryptographic signature, but properly administering cryptographic signatures is almost certainly too hard for your application.

So again you need to talk to a lawyer, and discuss the various circumstances in which you might have to provide evidence of a signature, and the costs and likelihood of having one challenged, to see if the evidentiary value of whatever you use is up to snuff.

Docusign/Hellosign/whatever MAY have better evidentiary value than something you set up yourself. But you need to really understand whether it's enough for your application.
posted by Hizonner at 11:48 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm sure that Hizonner knows far more about the legalities than I do. But simply as a datapoint, I will say that within the last few years I have "signed" with Docusign and similar services:
  • A purchase/sale agreement for a house
  • Mortgage documents for said house, from one of the largest lenders in the country
  • Home and auto insurance documents from a major national insurance company
  • At least half a dozen different employment documents for a major US corporation
I find it hard to believe that all of these large lawyer-filled companies would be using these services if they didn't carry any legal weight at all. It may be that they did additional things to make it valid, but the evidence strongly points to it being possible...
posted by primethyme at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find it hard to believe that all of these large lawyer-filled companies would be using these services if they didn't carry any legal weight at all.
I phrased that poorly. What I mean is that those services don't magically have more legal weight than doing the same thing in other ways, not that the signatures the collect can't possibly have any legal weight at all.

My other point is largely that you might have had a different experience on the other side of a border. The question didn't specify the jurisdiction(s) involved.
posted by Hizonner at 4:37 PM on June 16, 2015

HelloSign and DocuSign are legally binding signatures on the same level as a physical pen and paper signature. Depending on the situation, they may actually be better than a physical signature.

The particulars will vary by locality, but the particulars of contracts and physical signatures also vary by locality, so these issues are not unique to electronic signature. If this is a legal matter discuss it with a lawyer.

But of you just want a "signed" acknowledgment, consider those services as they make signature much simpler.
posted by Tehhund at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2015

This is a weird rabbit hole for a bunch of non-lawyers to be debating.

If this is a contract that you expect to be legally binding, do yourself a favor and ignore all of the above advice that isn't suggesting you chat with a lawyer about the particulars.

If you want literally what you asked for with no assumptions or embellishments, Google Forms will work like a charm.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:58 PM on June 16, 2015

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