Not long ago someone close to me was dismissed from job for mistakenly attaching the wrong file containing sensitive company information to an email that was sent to a group of recipients. Sure it was a simple mistake but it was one that cost him his job and put the employer in the awkward position of explaining to the client what had been done.
Sure, mistakes like this happen every day and it seems like an innocent enough oversight to forgive and forget but, that’s not always how business works.
Why Sending Links Are Better Than Sending Attachments
When Sending Larger Files
When you’re attaching files from your computer, you can only attach files up to 25 megabytes (MB) in size with Gmail and 20 MB with Outlook or 150 MB for Office 365 subscribers.
By inserting file links using Gmail from Drive, you can send a file up to 15 gigabytes (GB) and if you’re paying for a storage plan, you can send a file up to 1TB.
When Collaborating With Others
You might be used to sending attachments to collaborate on a project. For example, you might send your résumé to friends, family, or advisors to revise and comment on. However, this means you’ll likely end up with several versions of the document taking up space in your inbox–one from your friend, one from your family, and one from your advisor–that are difficult to keep straight.
By inserting a document using a link, you can avoid all that. Cloud services like Google Docs, Office 365, Dropbox Paper, Box, Quip, and others all let you see each other’s edits and comments in real time and any changes collaborators make to the file are immediately visible to the people you’ve shared it with, so there’s no need to reattach new versions of the file and send them out again.
By inserting links, you can also collaborate more efficiently on files. Everyone has access to the same content, including image, text, and video files that can be viewed using Google Drive viewer. You can even edit or use these files online.
When you send the message, Gmail checks to see if your recipients have access to the file and will prompt you to adjust the sharing settings on the file(s) you’ve inserted, if needed.
Some Best Practices
Avoid Shortened Links
Be careful about using shortened URLs in your message content. Shortened URLs are often used by spammers to mask the destination of the link, and spam filters often flag messages with shortened URLs as spam.
In general, URL shorteners are great tools that serve a good purpose, but spammers have abused the heck out of them to disguise their (already blacklisted) links. – Ben Chestnut, Mailchimp
He goes on to say that even permission-based email can get caught in the spam net and experience delivery failure, referencing an article written by Laura Atkins at Word To The Wise: Failed delivery of permission based email.
Assign File Permissions
Copying a file link and making it public allows you to paste it into your file manager as if you were selecting a file so that anyone with the link can access the file.
If you really want to control who has access to the file, you’ll need to choose the specific recipient’s email address s they can log into the service where the file is stored. In many cases, you can even get reports showing if and when the file was viewed or downloaded.
Also, be aware that services like Dropbox, Google, and OneDrive provide shortened URLs as an alternative to the long and cryptic version. It’s best to try and avoid short URLs as mentioned before.
How Google and Microsoft Does Links Over Attachments
Over the past 18 months, Microsoft, Google began rolling out updates to their browser-based and mobile email services that made it easier to click an icon that allowed you to link to your OneDrive, Google Drive Account.
The Pro’s and the Con’s
If you ever have to send any sensitive data, the advantages of using links include:
1. Changing sharing permissions at any time.
2. Updating a file without having to resend an updated attachment to one or many recipients.
3. Avoid the risk of someone accessing erroneous or sensitive content if mistakenly sent ( only if you can catch the error before the link is clicked by the recipient).
Probably the most challenging thing in an organization is to implement a policy of using links in messages over attachments when most people are conditioned to attach files rather than links. Until the policy is fully adopted and everyone buys in, managing consistent behavior sometimes takes a while for users to adapt.
Lastly, many large enterprise companies and government agencies still adhere to IT security policies that flag messages that contain links and favor attachments, in which case you’ll need to exercise extreme diligence when sending any sensitive information out via email.
Also published on Medium.