Jul 12, 2021

Cover Your Asterisks With These New eMail Disclaimers

Caution: Contents may be combustibly boring

By Ed Goldman
I recently sent an email to my closest friend confirming that he and I would be having dinner together that evening. His one-word reply—”Yep”—was followed by these 49 words:

“This email and any files or attachments transmitted with it may contain privileged or otherwise confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient or believe that you may have received this communication in error, please advise the sender via reply email and immediately delete the email you received.”

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Then I sent a note to a banker pal. She wrote back a five-word response. Then this appeared:

“This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error, please notify the system manager. This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you are not the named addressee you should not disseminate, distribute or copy this e-mail. Please notify the sender immediately by e-mail if you have received this e-mail by mistake and delete this e-mail from your system. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.”

Believe me, I’m not trying to hit a desired word count by including those disclaimers in toto. (For younger readers: I’m not suggesting the disclaimers were inside the little dog from “The Wizard of Oz”—though I guess if people can claim their dog ate their homework, suggesting the house pet also ate their disclaimer may not be a stretch.)

What confuses me about these interminable disclaimers/warnings is that most people receiving emails not meant for them are unlikely to put the information contained therein to nefarious uses. Now, I’m being anecdotal about that claim. Yet no foundation I’m aware of has yet to commission a study of the effect email threats my have on their recipients. But the Fiscal Year 2021-22 funding cycle has just begun, so stay tuned.

I suppose it’s possible that the Russians hacking our communiques could think “Yep” has international implications, that perhaps it’s an acronym for something out of our geopolitical past, like Yalta Ended Poorly—or, more currently (but not all that much), Yanni Eats People—but by and large, I think you’d agree that “Yep” seems essentially without guile.

Therefore, in the interest of putting the air brakes on the more litigious among us, I’d like to propose the following three email disclaimers for the identified occasions:

1. For an email that discusses when to meet for coffee the following morning: “This email and any files or attachments transmitted with it may include an invitation to meet at either a brand-name or locally owned java emporium at a specific time and on a specific day. You were not the intended recipient of this email and you’re not invited until you stop spreading rumors about whom I’m dating since my divorce came through. Besides, I’ve heard some of your guesses and you are soooo wrong.”

2. For an email that intends to summarize a particularly enjoyable dinner engagement the previous evening: “If you have received this email in error, please notify the system manager. This message contains confidential information and is intended only for the individual named. If you’re that person, wowie zowie, was that a fabulous evening! I’m so sorry I suggested Morton’s Steak House before discovering your nickname in college was Lass Vegan.

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“Under the circumstances, I thought you punted beautifully, not only sending back the live lobster our waiter brought to the table before we ordered but also by offering to adopt. I’m sure I’ll be able to get the stench out of my backseat in a few days; but I’m not so sure the waiter understood you didn’t mean to adopt him as well. I’m not by nature a jealous guy but I do hope he slept on the couch at your apartment. Or if he didn’t, that he’ll at least have the decency to return the rather generous tip I gave him. How does your schedule look for next weekend?”

3.For an apologetic email about a social gaffe: “This email and any files or attachments transmitted with it may include—aw, nuts! You can share this with anyone you want. After my reprehensible behavior last night at the Philharmonic concert, I am beyond daring to think I’ll ever be let back into polite society.

“First, how was I to know that the audience isn’t supposed to clap after a movement (which you’ll have to admit, is a pretty weird thing to call a musical segment, anyway)? I mean, the musicians stopped playing and just sat there, like they were waiting for a few ‘Bravos!’ And the conductor, who’d been doing a bang-up job at the podium, seemed to need a little encouragement so he’d continue waving his stick at everyone. No one told me that there’d be two more movements (be still my scatological mind) before we’d be allowed to applaud.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. I’m heading out to a Justin Bieber concert, where you’re encouraged to applaud and cheer throughout the performance, even though there’s no real motivation to do so. Not even a satisfying movement.”

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).