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When you send an email to an Outlook contact group (formally known as a distribution list), you might want to hide the email addresses in the group from the recipients. Here’s the easiest way to protect people’s private information.

What’s a Contact Group?

In Office 365 (O365), Microsoft’s subscription version of Office, two separate groups have replaced distribution lists:

  • O365 Groups: Designed for on-the-fly collaboration among a group of people, these groups include a shared mailbox, calendar, file store, Planner, and OneNote Notebook. These are great for small project teams, organizing your local theater group’s rehearsals, or any other scenario where you need quick and simple collaboration tools.
  • Contact Groups: These are a bunch of email addresses added to a group. Instead of having to add each of them individually to an email, you can email the group name, and everyone in that group will be added as a recipient. If you think this sounds exactly like a distribution list, you’d be right, with one notable exception: By default, distribution lists (and O365 Groups) appear in your organization’s global address book for everyone to see. Contact groups are personal to you.

RELATED: What's the Difference Between Office 365 and Office 2016?

If you don’t have O365 and are using a stand-alone version of Office without web apps, you might still have distribution lists available to you. We’ll be showing you how to hide the names of the recipients in a contact group, but the same steps work for distribution lists.

Why Would You Hide the Names in a Contact Group?

Sometimes it’s just common courtesy. Your friends might be okay with you contacting them by email, but they likely don’t want their contact information shared with everyone you send mass emails to.

Plenty of data protection and compliance issues provide good reasons to hide someone’s email address. If you deal with any sensitive information, especially financial or medical, you’re probably obliged to keep people’s identity private.

Email addresses are often easy to link to a real person as they are considered “individually identifiable information” by both HIPAA in the United States and GDPR in Europe. So if you’re emailing a support group, for example, you shouldn’t be sharing the recipient’s contact information.

How Do You Hide the Names in a Contact Group?

The good news is that hiding the names by using the BCC option when you create your email is simple.

The BCC field in a new email

BCC stands for blind carbon copy. You’ve almost certainly used the CC (carbon copy) option when you want to include someone who’s not the primary recipient of an email. BCC works exactly as CC does, except that BCC recipients see only the name of the sender and the name of the person in the “To” field.

People who’ve been BCC’d also don’t see if anyone has been CC’d and don’t receive any replies if someone clicks “Reply All.”

The BCC field is not visible by default when you create a new email, but accessing it is easy. Open a new mail in Outlook and click Options > BCC.

The Options tab and the BCC button.

This will display the BCC field in the new mail.

The BCC button and the BCC field.

You have to do this once only. In the future, all emails will show the BCC option. If you want to hide the BCC field, click Options > BCC from any email, and it won’t appear again.

Now that it’s visible, enter your name in the “To” field and your contact group in the “BCC” field.

An email with my address in the To field and my contact group in the BCC field.

Everyone in the contact group will get the email, but they’ll be able to see only the person who sent it (you) and the person in the “To” field (also you).

The first time you do this, consider putting a note in the email explaining to people you’re using BCC to protect their privacy. This will stop your less tech-savvy recipients from wondering why they’re getting an email that looks like it’s from you to you!

Profile Photo for Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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