If I Forward an Email Can the Sender See it?

if i forward an email can the sender see it cover image with an arrow and a stump

Email forwarding is a feature that allows you to redirect emails you receive to another email address.

So you may have hastily forwarded an email, and then suddenly realized that you didn’t want the original sender to know about it. In this case, is there any way the sender could know that you forwarded this email to somebody else? 

The short answer is no, but there are a few situations where the original sender may be able to discover your sneaky actions — let’s find out what they are.

Common Email Functions Explained

 Gmail Email functions explained to see if i forward an email can the sender see it
Gmail: What common operations can you do with an email?

Forwarding is a basic feature on almost all email services/clients. Visibility settings for forwarded emails are not the same as the Cc or Bcc functions, for example.

This table explains basic email functions and their visibility:

ToSpecifies primary recipients of the email. Emails in the “To” field are visible to all recipients.
Cc (Carbon Copy)Allows you to send a copy of the email to additional recipients. Recipients in the “Cc” field are visible to all other recipients.
Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy)Similar to “Cc” but hides the recipients’ email addresses from other recipients. Useful for sending copies discreetly.
ReplySends a response to the original sender of the email.
Reply AllSends a response to the original sender and all other recipients of the email.
ForwardAllows you to send the email to one or more recipients who were not originally included.
Common Email Tasks Explained

Forwarding lets you share an email with people who did not originally receive it. But does the sender receive a notification if their email is forwarded to someone else?

Only in very rare cases, as we explain in the next section.

When Does a Sender Know You Forwarded Their Email?

In most cases, a sender won’t know that their email has been forwarded. Unless it’s a highly confidential email sent under specific conditions on a secure network (like a corporate or private email server network), it’s highly unlikely that a sender would get notified about their email being forwarded.

But there are always exceptions. That’s why we came up with scenarios where a sender could find out an email was forwarded. 

  1. If you accidentally (or intentionally) include the original sender in the “To”, “Cc”, or “Bcc” field when forwarding, they will receive a copy just like any other recipient.
  2. Some email systems allow senders to request read receipts (very rare, though). If enabled and supported by the recipient’s email program, the sender might receive a notification upon someone opening the email, even if forwarded.
  3. Marketing emails often contain tracking pixels, tiny images that register when loaded, indicating the email was opened. If someone forwards the email and the new recipient opens it, the sender might see a higher-than-expected open count, hinting at forwarding (but not confirming it).
  4. If the recipient of a forwarded mail clicks on a link, it’s possible that data was collected about them. In this scenario, a sender may know certain details about that person like their IP address, country, client, etc. We’ll explain this in detail further below.

It’s important to note that the sender will never be directly notified if you forward their email. It’s not like Gmail or Yahoo sends a chat message to senders about every action you take on their emails — that would be a massive breach of privacy. 

What Information Does a Forwarded Email Share?

While forwarded emails generally retain much of the original information, it’s worth noting that email headers can be modified or manipulated.

Typically, a forwarded email contains this data:

Sender detailsOriginal sender’s email address and name are present in the email headers.
Recipient informationInformation about the original recipient of the email, including their email address.
Subject lineThe subject line of the original email could be present in the forwarded email.
Date and timeThe date and time at which the original email was sent are typically retained in the forwarded email.
Email client/serviceInformation about the email client or service used to forward the email.
Forwarding indicatorIndicates whether the email has been forwarded, such as a “Forwarded message” tag.
Message bodyThe content of the forwarded email, including any attachments, in its entirety.
What data can you get from a forwarded email?

Note: Only the recipient of the forwarded email would be able to view this data, not the sender.

Cleaning up an Email Before You Forward It

If you’d also prefer that the recipient not know that they’re reading a forwarded email — here’s how you can go about it.

1. Remove Unnecessary Recipients

Check the “To”, “Cc”, and “Bcc” fields. Remove any recipients not directly relevant to the information you’re forwarding. This minimizes the spread of email addresses and protects recipient privacy.

2. Skim and Trim Excess Content

Review the email body. If there’s irrelevant information at the beginning or end of the email chain, you can delete it. Focus on forwarding only the essential part of the message.

3. Address Forwarding

Consider adding a brief note at the top of the forwarded email to explain why you’re forwarding it and who the original sender is (if necessary). This provides context for the recipient. If you don’t wish to share such details, skip this step.

4. Review Attachments

If the email has attachments, ensure they are relevant to what you’re forwarding. If not, remove unnecessary attachments to keep the email size manageable. Ensure you review attachments to ensure they don’t have details of the original sender.

5. Clean Up the Formatting

Some email chains accumulate excessive formatting (like different fonts or colors). You can consider using the “plain text” option in your email client to remove unnecessary formatting and create a cleaner reading experience for the recipient.

Additional Suggestions

Tips to remember before you click that Send button:

  • Before forwarding, double-check the email for any sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, or private addresses. Avoid forwarding emails containing such data.
  • If you’re unsure about forwarding an email containing sensitive information, it’s always best to get permission from the original sender first.
  • In some cases, depending on the content, summarizing the key points in a new email might be a cleaner approach than forwarding the entire chain.

The biggest point to consider before you forward an email is: are you legally allowed to do it?

We explain why it’s critical in the upcoming section.

Security and Legal Concerns with Forwarded Emails

Forwarding emails can pose several security concerns and may also raise legal and compliance issues. Let’s examine the pitfalls of email forwarding without giving it ample thought, first.

Email Forwards: Security Issues

Being careless with email forwarding could cause serious lapses in security.

If users aren’t cautious when forwarding emails, it can lead to these situations: 

  • It may inadvertently expose sensitive or confidential information to unintended recipients, leading to data breaches or privacy violations.
  • Forwarded emails may contain phishing links, malicious attachments, or malware. 
  • Attackers can exploit email forwarding to impersonate legitimate senders or email domains, tricking recipients into believing the forwarded email is from a trusted source — aka a spoofing attack.
  • Forwarded emails may transmit sensitive information in plain text, making it susceptible to interception or eavesdropping by unauthorized parties.
  • If email forwards contain login credentials or sensitive account information, unauthorized access to these emails could lead to account compromise or identity theft.

That’s not all — forwarding emails indiscriminately could also land you in a legal mess.

Legal and Compliance Issues with Email Forwarding

Here are the legal/compliance concerns to consider when forwarding emails, especially for businesses:

  • Regulations: Regulations like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) impose restrictions on how personal data is handled. Forwarding emails containing such data might require specific procedures or consent from the individuals involved.
  • Intellectual property: Forwarding emails containing copyrighted material without proper authorization may infringe on intellectual property rights.
  • Compliance with industry standards: Certain industries have specific data security and communication standards. Forwarding emails containing sensitive data could violate these standards if proper safeguards aren’t in place.
  • Chain of custody: In legal matters, maintaining a clear chain of custody for electronic communications is crucial. Extensive email forwarding can make it difficult to track the origin and history of an email, potentially hindering legal proceedings.

Organizations should implement robust email security measures, provide employee training on email best practices and compliance requirements, and use encryption and access controls to protect sensitive information. 

Additionally, consulting with legal or compliance experts can help ensure email forwarding practices align with applicable laws and regulations.

How Emails Can Be Tracked

Email tracking involves methods used by senders to monitor when and how recipients interact with their emails — it is common practice in marketing emails. If you’re concerned about senders tracking forwarded emails, then you should be aware of these methods.

Email tracking can be achieved with the help of the following:

  1. Tracking pixels,
  2. Unique identifiers,
  3. Engagement,
  4. Tracking server logs.

If the sender uses any of these practices, they may be able to collect information on forwarded emails, too.

Tracking Pixels

When an email is sent, the sender includes a small, transparent image (often one pixel in size) within the email content. This image is hosted on a remote server controlled by the sender or a third-party email tracking service. This image can collect limited information about email recipients.

Email clients like Gmail and Apple have found ways to load this pixel independently, which affects the accurate tracking of open rates. Outlook and Thunderbird counter tracking pixels by blocking images altogether until the user specifically asks to load them.

Unique Identifiers

Each tracking pixel contains a unique identifier associated with the specific email being sent. This identifier allows the tracking system to distinguish between different emails sent by the same sender.

Recipient Interaction

When a recipient opens the email, their email client or webmail service typically loads all images or content included in the email’s HTML code. This action also triggers the loading of the tracking pixel, sending a request to the remote server hosting the tracking image — this helps them collect data about user interaction with the email.

Tracking Server Logs

The tracking server logs the request from the recipient’s email client, recording details such as the date and time of the email open, the recipient’s IP address, the type of device or email client used, and sometimes the recipient’s geographical location. 

Note that with changes in privacy laws, such email opens and the associated data are increasingly difficult to track.

It’s important to point out that even by using these methods, data collection is still limited:

  • Sending a link alone doesn’t provide personal user data.
  • Tracking parameters and website tracking (with user consent) offer campaign performance data and some anonymized user behavior insights.
  • User privacy settings and regulations play a crucial role in what data is collected.

Email Privacy: Instead of Forwarding, Do This

While forwarding may not be the best option, there are various ways to share data/information with people. 

Questions to Consider Before You Forward Emails

You must evaluate these points before you click the Forward button:

  • What kind of information is being shared? Is it a document, link, or general update?
  • How many people need access to the information?
  • Does the information require ongoing collaboration or editing?
  • How sensitive is the information being shared?

If you conclude that forwarding an email is not the best option, we’ve listed great alternatives in the next section.

Don’t Forward Emails; Do This Instead 

These data-sharing methods are more secure and give you more control compared to email forwards:

  1. Send a new email: In some cases, simply summarizing the key points of the original email in a new email might be sufficient. This avoids forwarding the entire email chain and keeps the communication concise.
  2. File transfer websites: For highly sensitive information, consider secure file transfer services that offer features like encryption and access controls. These services only allow authorized recipients to access the transferred files.
  3. Cloud services: Platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive allow you to upload documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files. You can then share these files with others by granting them specific access permissions.
  4. Collaboration platforms: Project management tools like Asana or Monday.com offer features like shared workspaces and document storage. Plenty of design and content software offer collaborative features, too.
  5. Internal chat apps: Many businesses use communication platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams for real-time messaging, file sharing, and video conferencing. These platforms are ideal for sharing information and updates.

With these methods, you can be far more cautious and intentional about the data you share with third parties. These processes also ensure everyone is accountable for the data they share.

Let’s cover more of that in best practices, up next!

Email Forwarding: Etiquette and Best Practices

Email forwarding, like any form of communication, should be conducted with proper etiquette to ensure respectful and effective interaction.

Follow these 12 guidelines to ensure you’re doing it right:

  1. Before forwarding an email, especially one containing sensitive or personal information, always seek permission from the original sender.
  2. Only forward emails that are relevant and useful to the recipients. 
  3. If using the Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy) field to forward emails discreetly, be mindful of who you include.
  4. When forwarding an email, include a brief explanation or context to help recipients understand why you’re forwarding the message.
  5. Consider removing unnecessary or redundant content from the original email to improve readability before forwarding an email.
  6. Refrain from participating in email forwarding chains.
  7. Before forwarding emails containing links or attachments, verify their authenticity and relevance. 
  8. Ensure links are safe and functional, and attachments are appropriate and virus-free.
  9. Be mindful of copyright laws and intellectual property rights when forwarding emails containing third-party content, such as articles, images, or multimedia.
  10. Avoid overusing email forwarding, especially in professional settings. 
  11. Consider summarizing or paraphrasing information when appropriate to minimize email overload for recipients.
  12. If a forwarded email requires a response or acknowledgment, promptly acknowledge receipt and respond accordingly.

With these best practices in mind, you’ll master email forwarding in no time!

Campaign Refinery: Best Practices, All the Time

At Campaign Refinery, we believe in email users’ privacy — this is why we value security practices and ethics over all else. We are also strict about compliance and ensure our clients follow the same rules.

Here are the steps we’ve taken so email is an enjoyable experience for all:

  • We don’t like spammers. That’s exactly why we have an approval process for all new clients, and we’re ultra-careful about who we let on our platform.
  • We constantly monitor our servers for spammy activities. Our clients are also expected to meet certain engagement metrics (like complaint rate must be below 0.1% and bounce rates below 10%).
  • We also require all clients to implement authentication protocols on their domains. This works well in protecting our sender reputation, which means mailbox providers love us.
  • We have an automated list-cleaning tool that gets rid of all invalid email addresses — this ensures you don’t waste unresponsive IDs and drag down your sender reputation by mistake.

We’re the kings of email deliverability — and this is possible due to our commitment to following best practices. 

If you want to see your emails perform at the highest level, apply to be a Campaign Refinery customer today!

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