Does a reply-all really reply to all?
March 31, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

How do bcc's work, exactly? I think I caught someone doing something bad.

I received a particularly vociferous, nasty email today from a coworker. She accused me of all manner of villainy and inadequacy. She cc'd my boss and a couple of other people. When I "replied all" (with a sincere apology, an expression of confusion and an offer to meet in person to amend any wrongdoings) I received an SMTP error in reply, that my message could not be delivered to a particular address.
BUT - the particular address that the message could not be delivered to is the email address of a former employee, one who was asked to resign over some misconduct, and was not present in the original list of individuals who were cc'd.

My question is this, I guess: When you "reply all" does it include anyone bcc'd on the original email? If so, did the smtp error reveal the person who was bcc'd? Here is the error it returned to me (with relevant email addresses redacted - the email address of the former employee is the earthlink address):

This message was created automatically by mail delivery software (Exim).

A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:

SMTP error from remote mailer after RCPT TO::
host []: 550 [redacted] unknown

if my coworker is bcc'ing this former employee regarding business issues, this would be a very, very unethical thing.
posted by Baby_Balrog to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The error email was sent:
from Mail Delivery System:
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:10 AM on March 31, 2008

Also, I will happily email you a copy of the entire email if you need more data.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2008

If the original email was bcc-ed to someone else, you wouldn't see that person's address in the email you received, and the reply-all wouldn't have gone to them.
posted by zippy at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2008

When you "reply all" does it include anyone bcc'd on the original email?

In general, no. The whole point of a blind CC is that there's no way for all recipients to see who was bcc'd. Something else must have happened.
posted by xil at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2008

If that non-working address was indeed on the BCC list for the original email, you wouldn't have even known about it, and reply-all wouldn't have included it, if the mail system was working correctly.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 11:15 AM on March 31, 2008

Is it possible that there was an auto-forward on one of the addresses which was sending email to that person? Or attempting to? That shouldn't matter either---it should bounce to the autoforward. I dunno. Maybe one person is 2 people?
posted by TomMelee at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2008

huh. I wonder why my "reply all" returned an error message from this former employee's email address? I certainly didn't include the former employee.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2008

Hitting 'Reply All' has never revealed any extra information for me, and shouldn't if the mailer is working properly, as mentioned.

It might help to know what your email client is.
posted by echo target at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2008

As others have said, the BCC wouldn't have come through in the reply all. Are you sure the email address isn't in either in the To or CC field? There's there a chance that the person's work email was in the original email, and that is set to forward to their home email? Or some other forwarding?

I'm not sure how all email clients will act with a Reply-To field when you hit reply all, but I suppose it's possible they stuck the ex-employee's email there...
posted by skynxnex at 11:20 AM on March 31, 2008

I suppose it's possible that it could have auto-forwarded from one of the addresses I cc'd (by replying all to the original email) but yeah - it seems the error would have been returned to the owner of the forwarding email address.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:20 AM on March 31, 2008

In the "to" field of the original email (the one sent to me) are two addresses, both of which are my addresses (home and work).
In the "cc" field are two other addresses, both of which are our direct superiors home and work addresses.
There are no other addresses present (originally I thought she cc'd someone other than my boss but I see those are just our home addresses).
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2008

BCC has nothing to do with this. Your mail client has no idea who may have been BCC'd, and thus (if anyone was), it wouldn't try to send to them.

And autoforwards do not necessarily bounce to the autoforwarder.

Either it was an autoforward or else you just overlooked it in "to", "cc", "from", or perhaps one of the lesser used address fields (such as "reply-to" or "sender").
posted by Flunkie at 11:28 AM on March 31, 2008

nope, I've scanned all the fields and I don't see it anywhere. Maybe it was autoforward, but I can't for the life of me imagine why and autoforward rule would be set up like that.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2008

If this coworker wanted to be sure that this third party automatically got every bit of the e-mail conversation, including replies from you and your boss, bcc'ing everything she sent out and having an autoforward rule set up to send on replies from you or your boss would be one way to do it.

I'd say call her out and check her response, if you think you could get away with it. This doesn't sound accidental.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:34 AM on March 31, 2008

Is there a distribution list in your to: field? If so, is it possible that old employee's email address is still on said distribution list?
posted by pazazygeek at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2008

Seconding autoforward rule somewhere.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:37 AM on March 31, 2008

Yeah. We have a meeting about this in a couple hours. We're equally ranked on the org-chart so I'm just gonna call her out on it and see what she says. I'm also going to ask my boss to check his rules in outlook to make sure the former employee didn't set up any weird autoforwards on his computer (she's the type that would do something like that). I'll report back.

Damn it all. Why do people at work have to suck some times? I was having a damn fine day, too.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2008

no, all the to: fields are to individual email addresses.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2008

nope, I've scanned all the fields and I don't see it anywhere. Maybe it was autoforward, but I can't for the life of me imagine why and autoforward rule would be set up like that.
Well it's not BCC. That's certain.

And I don't understand why you can imagine this person surreptitiously BCCing the former employee, but you can't imagine them surreptitiously CCing some basically anonymous address that (should) autoforward to that same former employee.

Look in your outbox, and look at all of the people in the "To" and "CC" of your message. Are there any that are not obviously known accounts?

Try sending a brief message to each one, individually. See which you get the bounce back for.
posted by Flunkie at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thanks flunkie, I'll try sending each one a test email.
I recognize all the relevant addresses in all the fields, I'll check each one.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:42 AM on March 31, 2008


One of the addresses in the to: field was being sent to an email address within the business I work at and the name was misspelled. SO, the server is set to auto-forward the email to the former employee's home address (she was an administrator here). We'll have to correct this.

Thanks flunkie and everyone for all your help.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2008

This disappoints me. I needed some good popcorn-munching office drama. But good work.
posted by middleclasstool at 2:38 PM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

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