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How gone is gone? Email recall may not work as you assume

One of our techs fielded a question recently regarding email – if I send an email to someone and immediately regret it, can I use the recall feature to delete it before someone reads the message?

The answer is “sort of, but not really”.

For a while, modern email clients like Microsoft Outlook have offered a message recall feature, whereby after a message is sent, a recall notice can be sent to the recipient indicating the sender wishes to recall that message. However, unless some very specific scenarios are met – namely, that both the sender and the recipient have a Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Exchange email account in the same organization and that the message had yet to be opened – the original message isn’t deleted. Therefore, all a message recall accomplishes is to call attention to the fact that the sender really doesn’t want the recipient to read the initial message, which of course, means the recipient will be curious what’s in the initial message and make them that much more likely to read it.

As a result, the best approach is to be extra-cautious and never click “send” unless you are 100% certain that the content is audience-appropriate for all recipients in the To, CC, and BCC fields. Much like a bullet, you can’t take it back once it’s left the chamber.

Similarly, one of our peer group members also recently shared a story of a client asking them to hack into a recipient’s mail server to delete a message they thought better of after the fact. That is a felony, just as breaking into someone’s home to take back a mailed letter. Once sent, control is out of the sender’s hands.