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Microsoft to rewrite marketing labeled as spam

The software giant plans to revise a message accompanying a test version of its MSN Explorer software, bowing to criticism that the feature resembles self-promoting spam.

Microsoft today said it plans to revise a notification message accompanying a test version of its new MSN Explorer software, bowing to criticism that the feature resembles self-promoting spam.

MSN Explorer is meant to be an easy way for consumers to use Microsoft's Internet, email, messaging and music applications on the Web. It also offers people the option of switching their current email addresses to a new Microsoft account.

Complaints focused on an optional feature that sends notice of an address change to everyone listed in the email address books of Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express customers who made the switch.

Critics charge that although sending the notification is optional, the final text, which consists of a message heavy on Microsoft marketing, is no better than "spam," or unsolicited email.

"We got a rude awakening today and we thought...'Let's make this clearer for the consumers,'" a Microsoft representative said.

The current email text lets friends and colleagues know about the person's new email address and then it pushes benefits of MSN Explorer.

"In the final text, it will let recipients know that you have a new email address and shares how they can use that to communicate with you," she said. For example, a message may tell recipients that they can send messages through Hotmail and MSN Messenger.

Whether changing the language alone will quell critics remains to be seen. Onlookers and new members may still ask why the feature is necessary when they can easily send a message to their contact list if and when they choose.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software company said the address notification feature was only created as a helpful tool for consumers.

Privacy advocates critical of the notification feature pointed out that it appears to run against Microsoft's efforts this summer to make it harder to harness Outlook for spamming purposes. The company issued a security patch designed, among other things, to prevent hackers from tinkering with email addresses contained in contact lists and sending unsolicited email to those people.