This week we’re celebrating the arrival of an undo send option in Gmail. But one did not always simply unsend an email — in fact, just last year, Goldman Sachs had to get a court order before Google would unsend an email full of sensitive data that had mistakenly arrived in the inbox of the wrong person.
In late June of 2014, a contractor with Goldman Sachs sent a document full of what the company called “confidential information,” including private details of brokerage accounts. But instead of sending it to a gs.com account, she accidentally addressed it to a gmail.com account. And so a lot of very sensitive banking information arrived in the inbox of a total stranger.
Goldman Sachs first tried to deal with the situation by contacting the person who owned the gmail account and asking them to delete the mail, but they were not able to reach the account owner. Then they asked Google to unsend the email, but the company insisted on a court order. Reuters broke the story when they discovered the request for “emergency relief” that the bank sent to the New York Supreme Court. It read in part:
Emergency relief is necessary to avoid the risk of inflicting a needless and massive privacy violation upon Goldman Sachs’ clients, and to avoid the risk of unnecessary reputational damage to Goldman Sachs.
The court granted the request, and Google unsent the mail. They also confirmed that the person who received the mail never actually opened it.