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Random executions: Hotmail gets tough on spam

User kicked for not doing anything, and not being complained about either

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On-the-ball email providers take spam very seriously; none more so than Hotmail, apparently, which will eagerly can your account even if you only do - er - nothing? And even if nobody actually complains about you? This at least was the experience of Register reader Gareth Kitchener, who is not currently the proud owner of a hotmail.com address.

He met this not necessarily entirely unhappy fate via a curious chain of events. First of all there's the interesting MSN Explorer routine that has the side-effect of inducing you to spam your friends with an MSN Explorer commercial without knowing it. It asks you if you want to let your contacts know about your new email address, and if you say yes it tells them how great MSN Explorer is as well.

This however is not how Gareth got discontinued. The next component is a grouchy-sounding mailing list administrator who got sufficiently angry about the MSN ads to block postings from Hotmail accounts. His list responds to would-be Hotmail posters saying it no longer relays mail from Hotmail accounts, and explaining why. For good measure it ccs the reply to abuse@hotmail.com.

You with us so far? So Gareth tried to post and got the bouncer, as did abuse@hotmail.com. Note that the bouncer message is not complaining about spam from the would-be poster, but about the spamlike behaviour of Microsoft's own software. Whatever, mere use of the S-word in messages to that account seems to trigger a nuclear strike on whatever Hotmail address is handiest.

In defence of the poor loves we should maybe point out at this juncture that, considering the amount of spam we all get from Hotmail accounts, they must be far too busy killing them off to digest the finer nuances of abuse complaints.

But over to Gareth now. He mailed support asking why his account had been cancelled, and got the following:

"Hello MSN Hotmail Member, Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail. The account that you reported has already been closed in accordance with the Hotmail Terms of Service (TOS). We do not tolerate our members being the victims of unsolicited e-mail (aka 'Spam'). We are equally intolerant of Hotmail members sending junk e-mail. It is a strict violation of the TOS for our members to send objectionable material of any kind or nature using our service."

Says Gareth: "As the only possible reason for this could have been misinterpretation of the 'bounce' message, I replied, pointing out that it was clearly a misunderstanding. I attached a copy of the original complaint and asked them to read it properly and when they realised the mistake, reinstate my account."

The response was strangely familiar:

"Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail. I apologize, but as it has been mentioned to you earlier that the account that you reported has already been closed in accordance with the Hotmail Terms of Service (TOS). We do not tolerate our members being the victims of unsolicited e-mail (aka 'Spam'). We are equally intolerant of Hotmail members sending junk e-mail. It is a strict violation of the TOS for our members to send objectionable material of any kind or nature using our service. Also, please note that the account once deleted cannot be reinstated."

Clearly there's a human being in there twiddling with the boilerplate, but still not reading the incoming properly before replying. A ballistic response from Gareth elicited the following:

"Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail. We understand your concern, but please note that for security and privacy reasons, we cannot give you further information regarding the status of this account. I appreciate your understanding. MSN Hotmail has comprehensive online help available to you. For more information on Hotmail features, functions, and issues, click the 'Help' button on the horizontal navigation bar."

More boilerplate, but we seem to have switched from 'you naughty spammer' to 'what's done is done, cannot be undone, and the judge's decision is final.'

But here comes the cavalry. The mail list administrator had in the meantime received a message from Hotmail thanking him for the information, and confirming that Gareth's account had been cancelled. He mailed them back pointing out that he'd been complaining about them, not Gareth, and asking them to put his account back. He copied this to Gareth, Gareth passed it on to Hotmail repeating his request for reinstatement and... a person! A real person!

"At last," says Gareth, "a semi-sensible response came out of Hotmail Support (presumably from a *trained* chimp). My request has been passed to 'the appropriate team' to deal with and they will let me know when they have a 'recommendation'. It seems that reinstating an account requires significantly more thought than simply closing one! I awaited the jury's verdict with bated breath!"

As of yesterday, he was still waiting. He says: "Given that it is possible to have your account permanently removed through no fault of your own, purely because MSN employ staff who are unable to read, it is a serious risk for anyone to use MSN Hotmail as their primary email address."

Presumably Hotmail can't be quite so trigger-happy with all the complaints that go to abuse@hotmail.com, but it's a malicious thought, isn't it? We've half a mind to report ourselves and see what happens... ®

* Register factoid: From a Hotmail account it is not possible to block unsolicited mail from staff@hotmail.com, and possibly from various other adminstration accounts. Put them on your block list, mysteriously, they come straight off it again. Spooky, innit? As the writer's Hotmail account (for reasons too perverse to explain) is set to refuse all mail, from anybody, staff@hotmail.com is particularly easy to spot in the inbox.

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