I'm a final year undergraduate student. When I opened Gmail today there was an email regarding some conference and instructions on how to submit a paper to it. I never get emails like this, so I was curious. The sender was a professor in my department. And the mail was sent to lecturers@[university_name].ac.[country_suffix]

I checked with some of my close friends and non of them have received that email. It seems like I have ended up on a mailing list for lecturers somehow. Since there might be confidential emails circulating among the list there is a risk of me being on it. Should I inform the professor about this immediately? Since I didn't 'hack' my way into the mailing list, can I just ignore the emails and carry on without informing?

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    Is there some reason you can't (or don't want to) just shoot your departmental administrator a one-sentence note explaining the mixup? – cag51 Jun 6 at 5:32
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    Receiving one email does not necessarily indicate that you're on the mailing list: it's possible that your address was (deliberately or accidentally) in the bcc field. – avid Jun 6 at 8:38
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    A possible explanation for why this happened is that you happen to share the same name as a lecturer who just joined the staff, and someone didn't check properly. – Federico Poloni Jun 6 at 9:42
  • @cag51 No. But I don't know whether it is appropriate. – slhulk Jun 6 at 12:44
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    @FedericoPoloni My name is pretty unique. And its not my university email id added to the list. It's my personal gmail account. – slhulk Jun 6 at 12:46

I see several reasons for receiving such an email, and it may not be the reasons that you surmised (some of which are noted in the comments).

  • The fact that you received an email about a conference does not necessarily mean you are on the mailing list. You could have been blind copied (Bcc) on the message deliberately. This may be a good thing and indicates that the professor felt you might be interested in attending the conference or submitting a paper to the conference as it may relate to your work (such as your dissertation project). This would be a compliment showing your work has promise; however it could just be a mistake. I mention this as when I was an undergraduate I did submit a conference paper on my work, which was a great experience!

  • Your email address could be very similar to that of another faculty member at your university (or even another). This can quite easily happen with so called "intelligent" auto-complete of addresses in email clients. This often can be very annoying and in large organisations like universities there are many people who share similar, or even identical names. If the sender (or list maintainer) is not careful they picked the wrong one, or the correct one was not even in the "pick-list". This happens to me frequently; I have a name-sake elsewhere in Internet-land and I often get their email. Also I have in the past emailed a postgraduate with the same name as one of my colleagues. Easy to do when in a hurry.

  • Someone is spamming to advertise their conference, and has just harvested a whole pile of addresses of people who are believed to be faculty members. This is not very ethical (or legal) but some over-enthusiastic conference organisers get sucked into this trap. I still get spam from what would otherwise be considered "reputable" conferences. I have about two dozen of these in my spam-bin, some from Government agencies and the like.

  • The university is confused who is staff and who is a student. Not as strange as it may seem. At my institution we use senior undergraduates as Teaching Assistants on Freshers' courses. Due to silliness within the "intelligent" software because they are in receipt of payments the payroll system regards them as "staff" and they get auto-added to the staff category. Plays havoc with keeping things confidential that should be kept confidential. (Insert rant about software design here)...

There can even be more plausible reasons that may come to mind!

What can you do? You have a choice: you can just ignore it, you can spend time investigating if someone else should have received it, or you can contact the sender and enquire. Most people would say just ignore it and move it to your "junk" email folder and let the AI deal with it.

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    In my experience, if I was bcc-ed the 'to' field will say 'bcc'. I have a pretty unique name and it is my personal email address that is added to the list. Can't be a spammer since the email is sent by a professor in the faculty. Might be the last thing you mentioned. I'm satisfied with your conclusion and advice. – slhulk Jun 6 at 12:54
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    @slhulk No; you are incorrect about Bcc. You do not necessarily have to be shown as Bcc for that to be the delivery mechanism. I can go into detail on the SMTP as that is what I teach. However this is not the time and place for a lecture! – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jun 6 at 13:05
  • If I was BCC-ed why am I seeing the email address of the list? – slhulk Jun 6 at 13:08
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    @slhulk because that is how email works! As I said not the place for technical explanations on the operation of email protocols on the internet! – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jun 6 at 13:10
  • This is something I really didn't know. Thank you for pointing that out. – slhulk Jun 6 at 13:11

If it is annoying you, ask your departmental administrator to remove you from the list. The IT department may be able to help you identify the person who controls the list, if it is unclear. You might even be able to remove yourself, depending on the system.

Email is a very old technology which was never intended to be private. If there is a need to transmit confidential information, cryptography should be used.

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    Privacy/cryptography have nothing to do with the fact that OP might have been mistakenly put on the addressee list (if it was a mistake). Of course the argument stands that email is not private, but it's not pertinent in the present case. – Captain Emacs Jun 6 at 12:04
  • Not annoying but I'm wondering about the consequences. Also, there's no option unsubscribe myself. – slhulk Jun 6 at 12:48
  • @slhulk There are no consequences of note. There is an option to unsubscribe yourself: it is emailing the person who administers the mailing list and asking to be removed from it. – Sam Jun 7 at 11:18

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