The Cost of Email Mistakes: 5 Case Studies You Need to Know

The Cost of Email Mistakes: 5 Case Studies You Need to Know

Email is a crucial communication tool for businesses, even in 2024. It’s simple and effective. But in its simplicity we can find ourselves complacent in how we use it. Or even who we send our emails to.

In this article, we’ll examine five real-life case studies where emails went wrong and caused significant problems for the organization that sent it. From exposing private information to damaging a company’s reputation, these examples highlight the potential risks of email errors. By understanding these incidents, businesses can learn the importance of proper email management and take steps to prevent similar mistakes. These case studies serve as a reminder that attention to detail is essential in all aspects of communication.

Case Study #1 – HBO Max’s “Integration Test Email” Incident

HBO says: "Yes, it was the intern"

In June 2021, HBO Max accidentally sent an “Integration Test Email #1” to a large number of its subscribers. As you can guess, the email was meant for internal testing but mistakenly went out to real customers. The incident caused widespread confusion and snark on social media. Some people pointed out the optics of mistakenly sending out an email to your entire client base, but most took the email fail in jest:

Tweet of someone that reads: "For the #1 Integration Test Email in ur life <3 @hbomax"

Hilariously, the official HBO Max twitter account had this explanation:

Tweet that reads: "We mistakenly sent out an empty test email to a portion of our HBO Max mailing list this evening. We apologize for the inconvenience, and as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern. No, really. And we’re helping them through it. ❤️"

We don’t blame the intern, but we do cast some judgment on their complete lack of email service testing! Using disposable email addresses for internal testing could have prevented this. But hey, we did at least get some genuine entertainment.  

Case Study 2 – Running Warehouse CC vs BCC

Header that reads "Running Warehouse vs BCC and CC"

Sadly this case is not as harmless. On May 2024 RunningWarehouse, a discount shoe seller, sent out what should have been a routine email about updating their terms of service.

As you can see, this wasn’t just sent to a single customer. While not the entire customer list, approximately 999 customers is pretty indicative of an email testing batching failure. And it didn’t go unnoticed either, as there was at least one 30 post thread on arguably the internet’s largest running forum

The issue is still relatively fresh as of this writing, but it’s safe to assume that Running Warehouse did not intend to leak 1000 of its customer’s email addresses to each other due to someone mistaking CC vs BCC. And even more seriously, it could even be a violation of GDPR under “Sharing Email Addresses Without Consent” according to GDPR’s Data Breach Guidelines.

Case Study 3 – University Backtracks Acceptance Letters

Banner image that reads "Sorry, Wrong Recipient"

In January 2019, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg mistakenly sent acceptance emails to nearly 680 applicants, although only 250 had been accepted. As you can imagine this caused confusion, disappointment, and reputational damage to the university. The affected students and their families were left feeling misled, and the university had to invest considerable time and resources to address the fallout from the erroneous communication. 

You may not be shocked to hear that this isn’t the first time this has happened, as Columbia University also accidentally sent 270 emails to students who had not been officially accepted. 

These cases are a clear cut impact of email errors on institutional credibility and the importance of systematic verification before sending mass emails. Systems sending out emails absolutely need to ensure that the emails they intend to send are 100% accurate.

Case Study 4 – Australian Leaks Citizen Emails

Banner text that reads "Australia vs BCC and CC"

In September 2020, an employee at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) accidentally exposed the personal details of almost 3,000 citizens by not using the BCC field in an email. This revealed the email addresses of Australians stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The mishandling of this sensitive information led to major privacy concerns and required immediate action, such as attempting to recall the email and asking recipients to delete it. 

While not directly tied to a system, temporary email accounts could be used in place to ensure the intended audience and message gets to its audience intact. 

Case Study 5 – Serco Accidentally Shares Contract Tracers

Banner text that reads: "Serco vs BCC and CC"

In May 2020, Serco, a business services and outsourcing company, accidentally exposed the email addresses of nearly 300 newly recruited COVID-19 contact tracers by using the CC field instead of BCC. This breach of privacy led to concerns about the security of personal data and put the company’s data protection practices under scrutiny. Serco apologized and announced that they would review and update their procedures to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

Yet another case of manual implementations of email lists without temporary email addresses, email outbound trapping services, or message integrity verification (ie, only 1 person in the to field, nothing in the cc field).

Stop Customer Data Leaks & Company Reputation Hits With Mailsac

We offer several benefits that can help prevent incidents like the ones described above:

  • Enhanced Security: Temporary emails protect more than just attacks and spam. By using a disposable email address, you can send test emails either manually or via your system to ensure the message arrives exactly as intended.
  • Privacy Protection: Mailsac helps keep personal and sensitive email addresses private. This is especially useful for companies conducting internal tests or handling sensitive information. 
  • Minimized Clutter: Using temporary emails for one-time use reduces inbox clutter around testing. It’s beneficial for both individuals and teams, as it keeps testing cycles organized. You can even split your testing into campaigns by using unique email addresses you control with every testing cycle with our Zero-Setup subdomains feature.
  • Testing and Development: Mailsac is ideal for testing campaigns, systems, and internal communications. Temporary emails can be used during development phases to catch errors and ensure that only verified emails are sent to real users. We have fully featured APIs to integrate between any systems.

Disposable email services are an essential tool for modern communication. They can help prevent costly mistakes and ensure that PR issues around email remain in the past. For those looking to enhance their email security and efficiency, we’re an excellent choice. Give Mailsac a try today and see how it can benefit your email needs.