03
Oct
11

“privacy” in the age of email

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve written a casual email to a colleague who either knows you really well or is either equal to you in “rank” or only slightly above. This email then gets sent on to the “boss,” sometimes very deliberately, sometimes quite casually, say, as a way to clue them in to the discussion thread without having to take the time to write it up from scratch.

BUT, the way you worded the email to the colleague/barely superior is not at all the way you would have worded the same thing to the person now reading your exact words.

Example: our college has instituted a flagging policy, where instructors are encouraged to go to the online class rosters for each of their classes and “flag” any students who seem to be falling behind — poor attendance, poor performance on assessments, etc. so that the counseling center can contact them and try to “help” them. When this request first came through, I read the message that included the suggestion that we were being encouraged to do so, (therefore, it seemed to be implying that it was not required,) and, because I communicate these concerns directly to the student whenever I feel it is appropriate, I ignored it. A couple of weeks later I got a reminder from the counseling center, at which point I emailed back, saying that I already took care of this directly with students as necessary, and that I thought this practice seemed a little more appropriate to middle school, (I may have used the term “babysitting”) and may also work against our efforts to encourage students to be self-motivated and self-aware. This message was then forwarded to my department head by the person at the counseling center, on a message that was not cc’d to me, at which point I received a message from my department head asking if I needed assistance learning how to use the program.

I was then immediately concerned that I would seem to be a teacher who doesn’t care about her students’ success, which is very much not the case, and I felt I needed to go to great lengths to justify my position — a position I maybe would have expressed a little differently if the conversation had originated with the department chair in the first place, but which now made me sound defensive.

This was only one of several of these types of experiences over the past couple of years, one of which included a forwarding of a message on which I had written “confidentially” right before making a frank observation of a student’s perceived level of commitment.

This practice is troubling, in our age of email, when passing someone’s words on is as easy as a click of a mouse, and maybe deserves a little more time to stop and reflect before doing so.

I’m considering adding a privacy request to the bottom of my emails, much like those used by attorneys and other people who have the right, no, the obligation to expect privilege, although mine would be worded in a more please-and-thank-you sort of way.

Something like this:

This message (and any attachment) has been intended only for the person(s) to which it has been addressed by the sender, and any cc’ing has been done openly. It would be greatly appreciated if you would respect my privacy, and my right to address individuals in an individual way, by not forwarding without my knowledge or permission, and I will do the same for you.

Does this seem savvy, or defensive?

 

 

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6 Responses to ““privacy” in the age of email”


  1. 1 Sam
    October 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    The second part seems defensive. I would leave the disclaimer at “This message (and any attachment) has been intended only for the person(s) to which it has been addressed by the sender, and any cc’ing has been done openly. Please do not disseminate, distribute, or copy this email without informing the sender.”

    A most official (most excellent) one would be like:

    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.

    • 2 Sam
      October 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      “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.” Might get you the effect you need.

      • October 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

        I’ve seen what you have written at the bottom of emails from people I know who are in finance or law, but it seems to be a little more threatening/intimidating than I want to be.

      • 4 Sam
        October 3, 2011 at 5:23 pm

        I think it’s less threatening because people read it and they’re like “oh she copied and pasted this because she wanted a disclaimer to keep me from forwarding it.” The second part of your statement sounds personalized enough that it’s obvious you’re referring to events that have happened to you in the past.

  2. October 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    That is a GREAT idea! I’m totally stealing it. And I think your wording works great.

  3. October 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    How about:
    “It’s from me, to you. Let’s keep it that way.”


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