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Users slam Hotmail porn spam

Free email services were created for members to send and receive personal messages, not for sending pornography ads. But that's what some say is happening at Hotmail.

According to conventional wisdom, free email services were created for members to send and receive personal messages, not for sending out pornography ads for free. But that's apparently what some Netizens say happened at Hotmail, one of the leading free email providers.

At least two Net users complained to CNET's NEWS.COM about receiving a spam from a Hotmail account reading: "Come see and talk to our hot models right on your computer screen. Our models will do whatever you say and we're willing to prove it by giving you five free minutes to try us out. Click here."

"I am writing to let you know that Hotmail is letting porn spammers use their site," one Netizen complained. Added another: "This is not a one-time mailing. You can be assured that I will not consider purchasing any product that is advertised on Hotmail as long as I continue to receive unsolicited ads from porn sites from their server."

Hotmail member Mark Mueller, of Missoula, Montana, said he had received at least 30 pornographic-related emails from Hotmail users in the past month. "For a while, I was getting two a day," he said. "I'm not a prude, but this is getting ridiculous." He added that such messages also had been sent to the mailbox of his 12-year-old son, which he deemed "completely unacceptable."

The porn spam underscores how the surge in free email services also raises the potential for abuse, even though the companies have safeguards in place. All ISPs and online services are trying to cope with the same problem, but free email services are especially vulnerable because they're so accessible and easy to misuse.

Both complained that Hotmail had not promptly responded to their complaints. Steve Douty, Hotmail's vice president of marketing, said today that he could not confirm those incidents. Company policy spells out that ads like these are forbidden, however, and the sender's account will be closed, he added.

"The member agrees not to transmit through the service any unlawful, harassing, libelous, abusive, threatening, harmful, vulgar, obscene, or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature," the user agreement reads. "Members will not use the service for chain letters, junk mail, spamming, or any use of distribution lists to any person who has not given specific permission to be included in such a process."

To discourage spams, Hotmail won't let members send out a single email to more than 25 users, Douty noted. In addition, the company has set up an address to handle such complaints at abuse@hotmail.com, and its policy is to follow up on any complaints about offensive email within 24 hours, he said.

As a further precaution, Hotmail began attaching the IP address to all outbound Hotmail messages, which identifies people with "questionable motives" who think Hotmail provides anonymity, Douty explained. "Since then, we've been successful on numerous occasions to identify those who abuse our service and have worked closely with both the authorities and the associated ISP to remove them from the Internet."

Another free email service, Juno, also has safeguards in place. "If you have received unsolicited, harassing, or obscene email from a Juno member, please forward the message, including full headers, to postmaster@juno.com," the service tells its members.

It also says: "You agree that you may not use the service to disseminate any email message in a broad-based mailing (that is, a single message sent through the service directly to more than 50 email addresses simultaneously) without the prior written permission of Juno."