Perhaps you've seen messages like this at the bottom of an email:

This message (and any included attachments) is from Vail Health, Vail Valley Surgery Center or Howard Head Sports Medicine and is intended only for the addressee(s). The information contained herein may include privileged or otherwise confidential information. Unauthorized review, forwarding, printing, copying, distributing, or using such information is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you received this message in error, or have reason to believe you are not authorized to receive it, please promptly delete this message and notify the sender by e-mail. If you have any question regarding this notice or the email that you have received, please respond to postmaster@vailhealth.org.

This particular notice came at the bottom of a spam email notifying me (sent to info@gift.com) of the following:

A Gift for you. Kindly respond back immediately for claim  

Clicking reply opened an email back to li139155@gmail.com rather than the person at Vail Health whose email account was used to send it. Clearly, I "received this message in error". I'd never heard of Vail Health until this afternoon. The notice advises me that it is intended only for the addressee(s). I doubt it's privileged or confidential.

Most of the time when I get spam like this and it comes from addresses that have been scraped from web pages across the internet, it doesn't actually carry much evidence of having come through an identifiable hijacked server. The link to postmaster@vailhealth.org did actually link to that address. And because I'm in a generous mood, I probably will email the postmaster to let them know they're being screwed – but not because of any obligation of the notice.

These are scare notices. They carry zero legal weight. Why?

Essentially because sending me email doesn't make a contract. You sent it to my address. Even if I asked you to send it, unless we have some other contract previously about this, you sent it. End of story. We did not negotiate anything, and I never agreed to your terms. If you made a mistake, that's on you, not me.

Here's the real deal. (This has been floating around the internet for a while, but it's still the best one out there.)

By sending an email to ANY of my addresses you are agreeing that:

  1. I am, by definition, "the intended recipient".
  2. All information in the email is mine to do with as I see fit and make such financial profit, political mileage, or good joke as it lends itself to. In particular, I may quote it or resend it anywhere I like.
  3. I may take the contents as representing the views of your company.
  4. This overrides any disclaimer or statement of confidentiality that may be included on your message.

(Photo by Liam Truong on Unsplash)