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Why is Hotmail so bad at spam?

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Column I'm trying very hard to be sympathetic towards Hotmail, and I'm failing, badly.

It's not the Microsoft connection that makes me fed up, it's just Hotmail.

Here's today's inbox:

From my contacts: 2 (2)
Marquita@viagra.com RE: Online Canadian Pharma...
admin@speedtrader.co... RE: Daily News

If you believe I have a contact called Marquita at viagra dot com, you're mad. I can't think of a single email provider who would not intercept ANY mail from that address and shoot it on sight. Letting the mail through is a trivial blunder, however, compared with allowing such a person to claim "contact status" with me.

A list of contacts in Hotmail is a list of people you acknowledge as contacts. Not just someone who writes an email saying; "I'm a contact!" in a bright cheerful voice, but someone whose credentials have been checked and validated by you.

In my inbox are some choice emails. One is from GIRLS WANNABE <girslwannaotjllluv288@yahoo.com>

Yes, Girls Wannabe - not in any way an unlikely name for a legitimate email sender, you're bound to agree? An offer of a Spanish camp for adolescents. All looks pretty innocent...I'm not going there to find out whether it is.

I have a letter from <admin@newloto.com> which may well be information about my recent enrichment. One more lottery win. I wouldn't know where to put the money if they were all legitimate.

Again, you'd think any spam service worth a damn would choke straight away on the word "loto" before it spotted the content. You'd certainly think it would recognise the content, because it's perfectly obvious that this was not sent just to me personally, but to a million recipients.

Then there's the message which begins: "gu?i quy?t d?nh vi?c n?m b?t hay không co h?i dó là tu?i tr? chúng ta. Thang giá tr? s?ng b? d?o l?n thì chúng ta ph?i l?p l?i. Khi phong bì tràn ng?p công s?, d? b? vào c? gi?ng du?ng và b?nh vi?n, thì l?p tr? chúng ta cùng si?t tay, d?n du?i t? n?n d?n t?n cùng."

It rather goes downhill from there, but again, any ordinary human would be able to detect this as spam, and an email provider as big as Microsoft Hotmail really ought not to have problems with it.

Hotmail also failed to recognise a known spam service provider, Lemuel Q Turner <ClevelandLidia@aera.net> who offered me marketing services to the US medical community, with a couple of sample deals:

Physicians: 700 thousand doctors in the US. Data is provided in Excel format and sortable by state or specialty. Over a dozen different fields and more than 30 specialties. Individual Cost: $349

Hospital Admins: 23 thousand in all with data for the CEO, CFO, CIO, COO and more Individual Cost: $220

Again, you can't believe that a functioning spam filter would let this junk through. But it did.

OK, you'll have got the message. It's clear that Hotmail is doing its duty to deliver emails to people, if there's any possibility at all that they might be legitimate. It's taking the view that if it filters too strictly, people will get on its case for filtering out legitimate business communications, and setting its target high enough that only the most obvious spam will get trapped.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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