If you have a Hotmail account - or if you've used Microsoft Passport - for
more than a month, there's something you need to check. Or, more accurately,
A small publication known as The Eastside Journal, based in Bellevue,
Washington http://www.eastsidejournal.com/sited/story/html/92308 , reports
that Microsoft has taken, uh, liberties with your confidential information.
A bit of history. Microsoft bought Hotmail in January 1998. It's still the
number-one location for free email: log on to www.hotmail.com and you can
send and receive email messages at no charge.
Almost 120,000,000 people use the system, worldwide. A couple of years ago,
Microsoft hooked up Hotmail to its Passport system. Variously known as
Microsoft Passport, Windows Passport, MSN Passport, and/or .NET Passport, all
of the names refer to Microsoft's giant central database of customer
If you want to use Hotmail, you have to sign up for a Passport - and in so
doing you're added to the Passport database. Microsoft Messenger requires a
Passport, too. Windows XP nags mercilessly, offering all sorts of goodies to
get you to divulge your name, address, age, phone number, and the like, as
grist for the Passport maw.
If you signed up for Hotmail - or anything else that uses Passport - more
than a couple of months ago, you may be in for a big surprise. It seems that
Microsoft changed the rules while you weren't looking. Unilaterally,
Microsoft may have granted itself permission to pass along your personal
information to other companies that use Passport on their Web sites. The
personal information includes your email address, your birthday, your country
and zip code, your gender and occupation.
Has Microsoft taken liberties with your data? There's an easy way to check.
Go into Hotmail. Click Options (to the right of the tab that says "Address
Book"). Click Personal Profile (in the upper left corner). Scroll down to the
bottom of the screen and see whether the boxes marked "Share my e-mail
address" and "Share my other registration information" have been checked.
Those boxes didn't exist when I signed up for Hotmail, and chances are pretty
good they didn't exist when you signed up for it, either. I certainly never
gave Microsoft permission to hand out my email address - or my birthday,
gender or occupation. I'd rather be dipped in oil. Yet both of those boxes on
my personal profile were checked. I bet they're checked on your personal
Details are still murky, but it looks like Microsoft added those two check
boxes a couple of months ago, and did itself a big favor by checking both of
them for all of the Passport holders at the time.
When did Microsoft implement this new policy? Hard to say. Details should be
in the MS privacy statement, but I couldn't find anything. If you'd like to
wade through Microsoft's privacy statement http://privacy.msn.com/default.asp#MSNMAIL , strap on your hip waders - it's
520 lines of dense legalese. The last two lines of the statement say:
Updated December 2001
(c) 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I just unchecked my boxes.