back to article They grow up so fast: Spam magnet Hotmail turned 22 today

Hotmail turned 22 today having ushered in an era of web-based email, great swathes of spam and one of the greatest ever security cock-ups. Launched on 4 July 1996, Hotmail offered "independence" (geddit?) from traditional ISP-based email, which required users download messages into a local reader. Hotmail allowed users to …

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  1. BillG Silver badge
    FAIL

    Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

    Around ten years ago I signed up for a browser-based Hotmail account just to see if the spam rumors are true. My username was a random 10-character alphanumeric.

    No less than ten minutes after I'd finished signing up did I receive my first spam email. After that I received about 20 to 50 spam emails a day even though I never used that Hotmail account. Never sent an email to or from it.

    That's Microsoft for you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'That's Microsoft for you - See if the spam rumors are true'

      Interesting... Did a similar experiment... Took a spam overrun Hotmail account and migrated it to Outlook along with a random character name change. That ended all spam instantly, or so it seemed... Curious exceptions started popping up - Kept getting <twoo.com> invitations. Wikipedia it, to see it in all its spam glory.

      Clearly a dodgy partner of Microsoft. By the way, the only reason for doing this experiment at all, was that MS refused to delete the account permanently. They were enforcing full validation of the account first (complete personal info), along with cellphone / email (secondary validation). Would you please fuck off Microsoft

    2. Andy Mac

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      I’ve had the same hotmail address for around 17 years and I’ve used it to sign up for *everything*.

      I get hardly any spam at all (maybe 10 a week) and right now most of it is because I bought a domain and stuck the address on Whois.

      I can’t speak for other peoples’ experience, but I’m very happy with the lack of spamage (although Hotmail is my main weakness in my attempt to be data-slurping-behemoth-free).

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

        "I get hardly any spam at all"

        I used to get quite a lot of spam to my Hotmail address, largely because of it being exposed on Usenet. Very little gets through now - Microsoft filtering has improved vastly over the last year or so. Occasionally SEO spam gets through - disappointingly little as I like to bait them now and again. Emails threatening suspension of the Hotmail account seemed to get through the filters occasionally although you'd have thought these would be the easiest to filter - does it pretend to come from us? yes, did we send it? no = spam. There was the occasional less well-informed spammer threatening to cut off my Gmail or Yahoo account but they all seem to be gone now.

      2. Nattrash

        Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

        Ah yes, the good old days... A hotmail address, get your knowledge through Alta Vista, and put it to use on some Tripod space. Where did we all go wrong..?

        1. Waseem Alkurdi

          Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

          When (a) the iPhone spawned and (b) Web 2.0 became a thing.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

            I have various free email accounts. I never get Spam via Google's. I never get spam via "Outlook.com".

            But Virgin Media's email ( since they stopped using Google's and switched to the parent company service) is ghastly. Mostly on my wife's address- probably since it's the one she uses most.

            Most annoyingly, pernicious obvious spam that a hamster could recognise at 50 paces gets through, but if I try to forward any of these to a phishing@(name of bank etc) address it does get blocked by their servers, because it contains spam. Emails that are forwarded to phishing@ addresses will contain spam - what a surprise that is.

            Idiots

            1. Bavaria Blu

              Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

              I once tried to contact Santander about a phishing email, but they had absolutely no interest. I suppose, what are they going to do about it?

            2. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...PS

              I don't usually add a PS - especially after 3 days.

              But since then Virgin have told me to forward phishing spam emails to their phishing@ address. So I tried and... I'm sure you're ahead of me, it got bounced by their servers because it contained Spam

        2. Potemkine! Silver badge

          Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

          When the Net became a snake oil supermarket mixed with a whore house.

        3. Fungus Bob Silver badge

          Re: Where did we all go wrong..?

          Dumping FidoNet for the iddernets.

          Abandoning the Gopher protocol.

          Taking Twitter seriously.

      3. oldfartuk
        Thumb Up

        Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

        Ohh i can beat that, i have a hotmail account created in the first 6 months of launch.. It gets very little spam now, because ive used aliases for throwaway email addresses ever since they invented the feature. I hated Outlook, but you get used to it, as long as it looks like hotmail used to. I taught my daughter to use it when she was 7, and how to use MSN Messenger at 9, she was the most connected 10 year old in Secondary school. I use it Hushmail for serious stuff, and PGP for really serious stuff. When I want the NSA to read my emails, however, I use Hotmail.

    3. -v(o.o)v-

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      I remember being excited when HoTMaiL (get it?), which was how it was initially stylized, IIRC, came available. It was pretty revolutionary: web interface, free.

      Whippersnappers of today have no idea how it was back then and how useful Hotmail was.

      Outlook.com has one extremely useful feature that the free Gmail axed: use your own domain name.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

        I remember my boss telling me about a web site where it was possible to get emails. I thought he was making it up! Then when MS took over I used Outlook express to download emails onto my PC.

        I've had various hotmail addresses for twenty years, and now taken the big step of setting up Outlook.com alias.

        Don't remember much in the way of spam, apart from one time where I couldn't send emails because it ran out of space. Found 900+ identical spam emails!

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      Mid 2000s spam was a problem, but they seem to have it sorted now.

      I opened my account before Microsoft bought HoTMail. It has gone through phases of bad spam. But in the last few years, I have used it as my main private account (still the original account) and I guess less than 1 spam a month gets through at the moment.

      But thereagain, I use GMail as a dumping ground for site registrations and other guff that could easily spam up my mail account, to keep my main account spam free.

    5. SundogUK

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      I have had a hotmail/outlook account for almost 20 years and I have never got more than five spam emails in a day.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      "No less than ten minutes after I'd finished signing up did I receive my first spam email. After that I received about 20 to 50 spam emails a day even though I never used that Hotmail account. Never sent an email to or from it."

      I've had an outlook.com e-mail address for two years*, and have had exactly 0 pieces of spam in that time. :S

      * I actually find the UI significantly better than GMail's ...

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

      Outlook.com, or HotMail as it was formerly known, *is* a spam magnet.

      However, why can this not be a feature?

      I have an HotMail account since 1997. Now I use it mostly to register on web sites and mailing lists.

      I have used the two following features to treat inbound spam:

      - White listing: I only allow known email addresses to my inbox

      * On a new registration, one needs to click the verification link anyways, so this is where I white list (or not)

      - Sweeping: mails are deleted or archived automagically on a schedule and/or on a count (if only GMail had this...)

  2. AegisPrime
    Gimp

    Hooray?

    I used Hotmail in its original incarnation for a bit but seem to have lost my password (or the will to live) around the time of Microsoft's acquisition. It was never really that good but at the time it was pretty neat to not have your email address held to ransom by your ISP (anyone remember Demon and/or Blueyonder?).

    Later I was one of those misguided fools that bought into Apple's MobileMe service (which if I recall, even Steve Jobs said was execrable) - over time it improved and eventually got subsumed into iCloud so both email addresses now point to the same account which I continue to use.

    I keep expecting Apple to kick me off for being a freeloader (I no longer own any ithings) but I really can't be arsed with switching to something else and wouldn't touch Google with a barge-pole. I did set up a couple of Protonmail accounts but without IMAP they're more novelty than utility - maybe I should quit being a tight-arse and *gulp* pay for my email account...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hooray?

      "maybe I should quit being a tight-arse and *gulp* pay for my email account."

      Maybe you should. Even I, a Yorkshireman, think my own domain and a few quid a year for as many aliases as I can eat is worth while.

  3. elDog Silver badge

    And we can all use non-MS, non-Gg email addresses but we are still in their grasp

    As has recently been pointed out, any email exchange that includes a participant in that set of slurpers (GMail, Outlook, facebuck, Hotmail, Yahoo, LinkedIn, ...) then all juicy tidbits will be scanned and remembered.

    I have a few friends and enemies that use secure email clients/paths (protonmail for example) that may think that sending me something on my <gasp>gmail account will be secure.

    I have an idea. Write your most cherished ideas on a one-time-pad piece of paper, in cursive, slip it into another innocuous piece of paper, lick a stamp (use your dog's slobber), walk calmly down the street past 3-4 mailboxes and then post that missive. (We don't have mailboxes anymore in my neighborhood, or public phone booths.)

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Overloaded Servers

    Users at my company used to complain when emails to Hotmail accounts would take hours to arrive. Looking at our server's SMTP logs, I could see lots of "Busy Here" reject messages from Hotmail's SMTP servers.

    Somehow, though, my users insisted it was my problem to fix.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Overloaded Servers

      Yep, Hotmail was notorious for that sort of thing. I always tried to steer people away from it. Here are some links that show the problems it had:

      * Loses 81% of all emails with attachments (2011): https://hubpages.com/technology/Hotmail_Fails_To_Deliver_Up_To_81_Of_All_Attachment_Emails

      * Emails not arriving: https://www.astutium.com/knowledgebase/268/Why-does-my-email-not-arrive-at-hotmail--Missing-or-Lost-emails-to-xyzathotmailcom-.html

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    It doesn't get a lot of traffic

    But I've had the same account since before MS bought it. Too many people worldwide know that account, but maybe don't know my paid-for private domain accounts.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: It doesn't get a lot of traffic

      I still have a Hotmail address.

      I use it regularly when ordering things or filling out forms which require sn email address.

      I have no complaints. It serves its purpose.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Useful in a willy waggling competition

    My hotmail account is <myrealname>@hotmail.com ... which will soon be older than some of the people interviewing me about my "experience".

    We live into interesting times .....

    1. Sideways

      Re: Useful in a willy waggling competition

      Yes same here i got it many many years ago when Hotmail was just a youngun and it's going to be kept until i croak it ... or hotmail/outlook.com does..

      My other spam magnet gmail account comes with a nice reminder that 37 other folk have the same name as me, that's likely 37 thousand now.

    2. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: Useful in a willy waggling competition

      I've got both <myrealname>@gmail.com and <myrealname>@outlook.com; you'd be amazed at how many other people think they do also. Most recently: one of my Irish namesakes filed their Form 12 tax return, apparently.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Useful in a willy waggling competition

        ThomH

        Me too. I actually have firstname.surname in all sorts of email accounts and variations alongside for family use. There's an idiot woman in the USA who sometimes uses my Gmail address. So I get emails about social events, quotes for catering family events. etc. I used to politely inform the senders. Nowadays I'm less tolerant. I send a stroppy email instead (reply all is best here). My aim is to embarrass her as much as possible. And it seems to have worked, I don't often get them anymore.

  7. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Weird, I always thought Yahoo was before Hotmail, although Hotmail was definitely the plucky upstart. I remember Yahoo being superior as far as I was concerned. I collected email addresses on all kinds of services in those days but it was always those two I used until Gmail came along. Google had the right idea by making it invite only, people swarmed to it and I even sold the invites myself on eBay along with Live Messenger Beta invites. There's nothing new shiny and exciting on the Internet anymore.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "There's nothing new shiny and exciting on the Internet anymore."

      Possibly something to do with age? Anyone who is retired has seen many things - not just on the internet - touted as "new" when they are merely recycled. Pop songs get revived - fashions get reinvented - censorship waxes and wanes.

      There was joke that even the years are being recycled. The day/dates on a calendar for 2018 are the same as one for 2007 - or even 1900.

      I think the last new and exciting thing I saw on the internet was flightradar24. Yesterday was a record as they tracked over 200,000 flights - with 19,000 in the air at the same time.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Yes it's definitely age, you're right. I'm only mid 30's at the time of writing this. You didn't need to be anonymous I wouldn't have been offended :-)

        And Flightradar24, actually yes that was the last new shiny exciting thing I saw actually,good point.

  8. katrinab Silver badge

    I don't get any hotmail spam these days

    The only thing I use it for is my domain registrations, and while it got loads of spam about 20 - 15 years ago, now, I don't get any. GMail and Yahoo however, get lots of spam.

  9. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "And then go back to GMail."

    Speak for yourself.

    Mail.com (GMX)

    ProtonMail

    Runbox

    Fastmail

    Posteo...

  10. Jim 59

    Hotmail

    Been using the free version since circa 1998. See no reason to change. Thanks, Bill.

    By all means go to bed with Gmail. Be distracted by its slick features, while in the background it gets down to the brutal business of re-identifying your online ID, tracking your every activity, and building a picture of your every internet wandering, down to the last click.

    In comparison, a bit of spam seems almost innocent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hotmail

      while I share the sentiment about GMail, unfortunately, I have to shatter your belief that hotmail is only "a bit of spam". A couple of years ago I DID read they ALSO read those e-mails in your inbox. (anonymizing, caring for privacy, blah-blah-blah)

    2. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Hotmail

      Be distracted by its slick features, while in the background it gets down to the brutal business of re-identifying your online ID, tracking your every activity, and building a picture of your every internet wandering, down to the last click.

      What makes you think Microsoft and Yahoo are/were not doing just that as well ? I do not trust Google, nor Yahoo, or Microsoft, ever ...

      BTW, hotmail users could not count to 5! Netscape gave you 5Mb and allowed you to send 3Mb emails ...

      @el reg

      Windows 95 & 98 allowed you to set a password, yay!, but you could just get through the logon screen by hitting Esc <---- all your data is belong to me!

      1. Test Man

        Re: Hotmail

        "Windows 95 & 98 allowed you to set a password, yay!, but you could just get through the logon screen by hitting Esc <---- all your data is belong to me!"

        That's because it was never a security feature, it was merely a feature to allow "profiles" which held certain Windows settings (like background, etc.) so you could have custom settings protected by a password (for people who liked to have their own set of colours/background/screensavers/etc). Hitting ESC simply loaded the default profile.

  11. mickaroo

    Hotmail Holdout

    I've had a Hotmail account since 2003 when I switched over from @Netscape.com.

    Spam was never an issue (maybe I didn't visit the right websites?) and Hotmail is still my preferred email address.

    And I am no fan of Micro$oft. Go figure...

  12. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    Snippet for those interested in how the browser-based email service got its name - HoTMaiL.

    Or so I was told once.

    1. WallMeerkat Bronze badge

      I think that's a fact. I seem to recall the early logo even spelt it like that.

      Remember there was an HTML creating / editing tool called ' HoTMetaL'?

  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    GMail

    "Both services are heavily integrated with their respective parents' application suite stuff, making exact counts difficult to ascertain,"

    I wonder how many of those gmail accounts are people with multiple accounts? I've signed up to a few Google service over the years just to see what they were, so used unique details each time, and all have generated gmail accounts. Likewise my work Android phone and personal tablet use separate accounts, neither of which get used and the password are probably long forgotten by now.

    1. abubasim

      Re: GMail

      You will need your GMail passwords once you replace the phone and the tablet - or need to do a factory reset.

      "No body"? Reminds me of the joke about the boy born without a body who's complaining that the only gifts he receive are hats.

      1. Waseem Alkurdi

        Re: GMail

        You will need your GMail passwords once you replace the phone and the tablet - or need to do a factory reset.

        Only if Google Factory Reset Protection is enabled, otherwise not.

      2. Joe Harrison Silver badge

        Re: GMail

        Reminds me of the joke about the boy born without a body who's complaining that the only gifts he receive are hats.

        Think his name was Ed.

      3. Donn Bly

        Re: GMail

        You will need your GMail passwords once you replace the phone and the tablet - or need to do a factory reset.

        And even the passwords might not be enough when you have turned on two-factor authentication. Guess what happens when your authentication device is the one that needs to be replaced, and you have to log into your account first in order to do it....

        In my case luckily I had one machine that I had marked as "trusted" and was still logged in -- I had to drive to that location to turn off two-factor authentication, then drive back to the store to get the phone replaced. Back up SMS authentication? Well, that also went to the dead device... Back up phone number? That went to a land line whose anti-telemarketer protection rejected the calls from Google as spam.... Then I had to re-setup everything that I had using Google Authenticator for two-factor since you can't restore them or transfer them to another device....

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: GMail

        "You will need your GMail passwords once you replace the phone and the tablet - or need to do a factory reset."

        I just checked. They have Post-It notes stuck to them with the password written on.

  14. Johnny Canuck

    I got my hotmail address in 1998 - and its also a real name account. As a curiosity, I also have a netzero.net email account left over from 1999-2000 era when netzero was offering FREE dialup internet. I keep waiting fort the day I can no longer log into my netzero account.

    1. Sven Coenye

      1999-2000

      Around the same time, HP gave away free 4MB @compaqnet.cctld addresses to anyone buying a new PC. Not only is mine still alive as well, the capacity has grown quite a bit over the years.

      1. Waseem Alkurdi

        Re: 1999-2000

        Interesting! I was born in that era so missed the fun.

        Tried punching that in Wayback Machine to see what shows up.

        Oddly, nothing. Never cached by Internet Archive, never crawled by Alexa.

        How did you guys log into that email if the domain name never had a web server hosted on it?

        Could an email server be hosted w/o an accompanying Web server?

        Missed the fact that .cctld = a two letter country code. Apologies!

        It seems, however, that compaqnet.XX is dead (on Nov. '03 according to the last archived version of compaq.fr). How come the email addresses still work?

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