Glitch gives Hotmail a scare

A technical glitch at Hotmail causes some customers to think that they were getting other people's email.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
A technical glitch at Hotmail over the weekend caused some customers to think that they were getting other people's email, but the company says there was no security breach.

The problem, which affected as many as 50,000 of Hotmail's 1.6 million customers, was limited to the email header and not the message itself, Hotmail chief executive Sabeer Bhatia said today.

Here's what happened: When some users logged on to Hotmail, they saw an email header containing information that may not have been directed to them. The header contains only the name of the email's author, the date, and the subject of the message, not the message itself.

"I just logged in to my Hotmail account and found it full of other people's messages--not the sort of thing that brightens someone's day," one user complained to CNET.

But Bhatia said users could not read the message beyond the header. When they clicked on the header, the email message came up blank, he said. The company pinpointed the problem in the memory module of one of its 50 computer servers, he said, and it has been fixed.

Bhatia said another recurring problem may be causing email to go awry: senders using the wrong addresses.

If the glitch remains isolated, it is unlikely to have much effect on the market for free email, which has taken off recently. Hotmail, Juno Online Services, and other free email companies bring email to people who typically aren't Internet users.