The Two Faces of AOL and Microsoft's Spam Policies
May 9, 2003 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps you've seen the new MSN commercials that use M$'s "spam-blocking" technology to support their ISP service. Maybe you've read fluff pieces like these, where AOL and Microsoft execs are allowed to wax poetic about their deep anti-spam convictions:

"'I get spam too, and I am as fed up with it as all of our members are,' AOL chief executive Jonathan F. Miller said yesterday." "'To help keep intruders at bay,' Microsoft said, "we must all do our part.'"

So what's this all about? "'AOL and Microsoft argue there is a place for legitimate unsolicited e-mail in the marketplace,' said Marc Berejka, Microsoft's senior director of public policy."
posted by Pinwheel (19 comments total)
"Legitimate" = AOL and/or Microsoft got paid.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:15 AM on May 9, 2003

Spam from the big comapnies is really strange. I had to signup a new hotmail account the other day so I could use MSN Messenger that one client insisted on.

I swear I opted out of everything, every daily mail, every public directory listing, everything that remotely looked like MS would share my new hotmail address with anyone. Less than 24 hours after I started the account I had a dozen offers for diplomas-by-mail and viagra in my inbox, and not in my junk folder (and I know this because MSN messenger insists on telling me I have mail waiting at hotmail whenever I run it).

I know that something *must* be up for a fresh, unpublished email address with no opt-in marketing to be almost instantly inundated with spam. Microsoft must have a customer list it sells to paying spammers. It makes short-term economic sense for them to accept money from spammers up front and allow the spam through unfettered, but they degrade the email experience for every hotmail user in the process.
posted by mathowie at 9:22 AM on May 9, 2003

Santa Monica attorney Bennet Kelley, who represents California e-mail marketing firms, told the committee: "This is cutting off your hand to deal with a hangnail.''

It's more like amputating a gangrene-infested hand even though one nail is still hanging on.
posted by pfuller at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2003

Matt, I suspect that rather than MS selling its address, Hotmail is just such a large, juicy target that spammers send to every possible username there.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2003

I'm not surprised, MS has also rejected overtures to provide pop-up blocking in their browser, which is essentially the same as spam.
posted by xmutex at 9:37 AM on May 9, 2003

Mathowie:I know that something *must* be up for a fresh, unpublished email address with no opt-in marketing to be almost instantly inundated with spam. Microsoft must have a customer list it sells to paying spammers.
There must be some point of discretion though. I set up a new hotmail account for blog e-mail. Did everything you did, no spam (only mail I get there at all is once a month or so bulletins from "MSN staff"). Why should you get all the Viagra while I'm left out in the diplomaless cold?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2003

Matt: Your hotmail account almost certainly got spammed because spammers quite enjoy sending spam to *

Also, you don't need a hotmail account to use messenger, you just need a MS Passport. You can get one, without a hotmail account, at
posted by Mwongozi at 9:40 AM on May 9, 2003

Has anyone taken the plunge with a formerly "free" Hotmail account and subscribed to the pay service thinking it would block the spammers? Has it worked? I'm about at wits end and have used all my filters -- maybe those impotent filters can use the viagara...
posted by chandy72 at 9:42 AM on May 9, 2003

Here is the problem (or answer). I just got an unsolicited email to my hotmail account from MSN about:
- "MSN 8 subscribers can take advantage of Microsoft's most advanced spam filter and features."
- "Mother's Day roses + free vase for $29"
- "2 months free dial-up Internet access" with MSN 8
- "Ready Tech Go with a Gateway PC"
- "With MSN Extra Storage, you can get 10MB of e-mail storage for only $19.95* a year (less than $2 a month) "
- "The summer sports season is right around the corner, and it’s time to pick up those outdoor necessities"

at the end:
"As a Hotmail member, you have received this e-mail to inform you of updates, changes to the Hotmail service, or special news and information from MSN. Our policy has always been to send e-mail messages only to announce such information, and we'll continue to honor this policy. Thank you for being a Hotmail member."

The button for [Block] button is not available, so I cannot report that email as junk. Oh, yeah, Yahoo! wants me to pay for advanced spam filtering options too.

Is is spam if it says in EULA that I 'agree' to receive this kind of emails?
Do you see any conflict of interests here?
posted by MzB at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2003


I use AOL, and we get loads of "AOL Declares WAR ON SPAM" stuff on our welcome screens, along with little images of AIM icons punching Spam, and knocking it out.

Talk about rank hypocrisy. Ooh... feedback form. Ooh... AOL messageboards. Ooh!

(Thanks Pinwheel)
posted by Blue Stone at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2003

This is strictly business fodder. They have to say that they'll take care of spam, because that's what the public wants. They don't want their eight year old kid getting e-mail's for penis pills with the tag line "BREAK HER WALLS WITH YOUR GIANT COCK!". At the same time, they have to nudge and wink with the people that actually pay their bills by saying "Don't worry, foolish citizens we'll be appeased but nothing will change." Happens all the time.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2003

If someone were to pull an Arianna Huffington and raise some money to produce some damning TV commercials or, at the least, some web banners and so forth, it might be enough to get the big dogs to pull back some of that lobby money.

Not that they wouldn't influence these matters in other ways; it would just force them to try harder to conceal it.
posted by Pinwheel at 10:51 AM on May 9, 2003

My experience is similar to PinkStainlessTail, but with pop-ups. When I use my friend's computer, with a 'stopper' installed, the surfing experience is akin to a game; endless bleeps and bloops as window after window is kerblammed. At home, almost nothing. I'll admit that my surfing destinations are occasionally less than entirely what my Mum would approve of, but aside from those insidious transparent background Flash thingums, (Guardian, I'm looking at you!), I remain pretty much immune. Other than a firewall and a virus checker, I take no special precautions, so why do some people seem to luck out so? Could it be a reward for alowing the Only One, True, browser, IE on my system?
posted by punilux at 10:56 AM on May 9, 2003

Hmm. I'm sure I'm not *technically* correct, but if anybody non-technical (the prototypical old aunt springs to mind) asks me what spam is, I normally just say unsolicited e-mail. So it's odd (imho) that MS etc are against spam but all for legitimate unsolicited e-mail. Of course, MS have always been "Do as we say, not as we do" but that's a different story.
posted by kaemaril at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2003

I frankly don't want the ISP blocking spam for me. When they block it, I have no way of looking for false positives, and I know there's mail I wanted to receive that matched some spam profile and never made it through.

I want to be in control of my filters. With hotmail, the only thing that could possibly work is a white list filter. Everything else gets diverted to junk.
posted by willnot at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2003

punilux: Apple's Safari beta does not allow popups. It's glorious. And it's a lot faster than IE. Of course you're prolly stuck in Windows™. Oh well.

I'm no geek, Matt, but I think pmurray and Mwongozi got it right about your spam. Sometimes on my yahoo account they don't bother to BCC me and I can see a million other addresses in variations of my own.

Also, don't forget that opting out of receiving future spam will often have the opposite result. We are dealing with the business community here, so look for integrity at your own risk.
posted by divrsional at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2003

Use Mozilla, and you will never see popups if you don't want to.

Also use a Bayesian email filter, and you will not have to look at most of the spam you receive. Only works for email downloaded to a client, though. If you use webmail, you are at the mercy of others.
posted by moonbiter at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2003

I use hotmail *only* for junk - I sign up for things using it and keep other addresses for friends and business associates, etc, making sure they never send me circulars. This ensures that any junk mail is clogging the mail server of our favourite culprit and keeps me fairly free (touch wood) of spam. I have to sift through occasionally but that's not too much of a problem.
posted by Kiell at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2003


You should try getting your own mail server. Each service I subscribe to I use ''. In theory I can cut people off by banning that particular email address.

I say theoreticaly because I've never really gotten a spam from any of those addresses. It's weird. I've been totaly permiscuous with them and not a single spam. I only started doing this a few months ago, when I started getting shitloads of spam. ugh.
posted by delmoi at 7:40 PM on May 9, 2003

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