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HP says it didn't spam

Hewlett-Packard denies it deliberately spammed people over the weekend, despite protests from Net users who claim they never signed up for a scanner newsletter.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) today denied that it had deliberately spammed people over the weekend, despite the protests of Net users who claim they never signed up for a newsletter on HP scanners.

As reported yesterday by CNET's NEWS.COM, an error in a mailing list about HP's ScanJet 5 resulted in thousands of messages pouring into users' in-boxes over the weekend, with some people receiving up to 2,000 messages in three days. Most of the recipients had entered their personal information in a contest form on HP's Web site.

But many NEWS.COM readers who were deluged with email from the list complained they had never asked for the information.

"I'd never been to their site," said Andy Glover, who runs the One World CyberCafe in Temple, Texas. "I've never been interested in any Hewlett-Packard stuff, and I'm always careful about giving out personal information."

Glover wondered if the company had found his name and email address in a Usenet "comp.sys" newsgroup. Others said they had filled out product registration forms but never visited the HP Web site.

Company representatives denied that the company had gathered names from other sources to spam them with the scanner newsletter.

"We didn't pull names from any other source [besides the contest form]," said HP spokeswoman Anne McGrath.

However, the contest form featured an option to automatically receive the ScanJet newsletter; until recently, the default response was set to "yes." It has since been reset to "no."

As for people who never filled out the form, they must have had their names entered by others, McGrath added. "That's the only other way anyone else could have gotten on the list."

Subscribers to the list received mail every time someone sent a message back to HP. The mail then snowballed as angry recipients flamed the company asking to be taken off the list.

"Everybody was getting everybody else's 'unsubscribe' message," said one list participant in Los Angeles who asked not to be named. "I've gotten over 2,000 emails so far."

Added Glover: "It was full of irate, weird messages. People were freaking out."

The incident underscores the growing annoyance of Internet spam, accidental or not. Glover estimated he received more than 600 emails since Saturday, with today's batch taking half an hour to download even with a high-speed ISDN line.

Hewlett-Packard fixed the problem Sunday, but the list members could continue to receive unwanted email in the short term as the last of the messages make their way through the Internet.

About 3,000 people have signed up for the ScanJet information service, but the company doesn't know how many messages bounced because of the glitch. The cause of the problem was most likely human error when the mailing list was set up, according to McGrath.

"It could have been as simple as checking the wrong box or putting a '1' instead of a '0,'" she said.

McGrath recommended that anyone still having problems call a special complaint line at 650/857-7177.