back to article This emergency alert has been cancelled by Hotmail

Yesterday's story showing evidence that Microsoft has placed Draconian caps on the number of Hotmail recipients who can receive an email prompted a message from reader Jeff Willis. He says Hotmail routinely blocks mass emails his company, MIS Sciences Corporation, sends on behalf of universities and government agencies. That' …

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  1. Shad
    Gates Horns

    my heart bleeds

    I find myself in the unusual position of actually agreeing with MS on this issue. Thanks to these measures my spam box is much smaller these days.

    Opt in or not, if you are using Hotmail for critical communications and emergencies, you are an idiot. Actually no, even an idiot would not be that stupid.

    Get a real email account with your ISP if you want to have any credibility at all.

  2. Dick

    Emergencies?

    "What's going to happen is an emergency message is going to go out and they're not going to get the message," says Willis,

    What kind of idiot uses a service like hotmail for critical safety information ?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ahem

    As the first poster so aptly stated, one doesn't have to worry about little problems like this when one subscribes to an honest-to-gawd ISP... If their emails are so damned mission critical, maybe they should consider <gasp> getting their own mail server and NOT relying on hotmail? I mean maybe I'm grasping at straws here, but would't that make a tad more sense??

  4. lr

    Not an idiot, just a student

    As a student, why should I be penalized by using a free email account and end up not hearing that a gunman is loose on campus? Where is the sense in that?

  5. lr

    I am not an idiot, just a starving student

    If I choose to use a free email account since I am a student on a limited budget, why does that mean I should be the one who doesn't get notified of the gunman on campus?

  6. Chris
    Thumb Down

    Erm...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, previous posters, but it seems that this company -has- their own mail server.. the problem is Hotmail is refusing to allow more then 10 recipients receive emails from one address within a certain timeframe. The problem -isn't- that the company is using hotmail to deliver the messages.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ir

    As a student, you should already have access to free email, courtesy of the learning institution you're attending. I have, at every school I've been going to for the past 10 or so years.

  8. Shad
    Jobs Halo

    @ lr

    I should have been more clear. I use Hotmail, and have done so for many years. This is not about Hotmail being good or bad (I think its great), but what people should expect given it is open to all and is free.

    PS all universities, colleges, high-schools and jr. high schools in just about every developed country in the world has a student email available to you (also for free or part of your tuition).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    email is not the right medium

    As we've seen, hotmail is fraught with false positives thanks to the way that Microsoft chuck the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to managing spam. There are lots of other reasons, outside of the sender's control, for why email is a poor medium for sending reliable alerts

    As much as hotmail is a bag of bollocks, it cannot be blamed for being a weak link in an already weak chain which has been created to handle these apparent life and limb threatening situations. Yes, one day someone will get hurt and it will be because somebody felt that email should be a reliable way to prevent it.

  10. Chris C

    Who's the idiot?

    Regarding the first three comments, I believe it's you who are the idiots. This article isn't about someone sending messages out FROM Hotmail. This article is about a company not being able to send messages TO Hotmail addresses. Huge difference.

    Though I must say, I liked the ignorance of the first comment. You say you agree with MS and this policy because it reduces your spam. And then you say that no one should use Hotmail, that they should use an ISP for email. But following that logic, ISPs should use that same policy, which would mean problems for users no matter who hosts their email.

  11. Alan Donaly

    There is no good rational for this

    you are either delivering email or you are not delivering email maybe they should warn everyone on the sign-up page in big letters we don't deliver mass mailings no matter how mission critical go to Yahoo or Gmail for that. As usual with Ms they like to try to do things in the real world but their sloppy execution always gets them in the end.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Not stupid, brain-dead

    There's two sides to this one. Sure, if someone sends you an email you should get it. Uh, unless it's spam, that you don't want of course. Doh! that's why you're not getting it.

    A critical detail:

    Emails are not guaranteed to be delivered.

    Emails are a bad way to get emergency notices. Your family will feel great when they check your email and find you'd have lived if only you'd read it that afternoon, instead of heading off to class. You want to get emergency notification, register to get SMSes, direct phone calls, or some other system that doesn't require you to be looking in the right place at the right time.

    Actually, no. Given that you'd trust email, why not switch to snail mail? Sure it's slower than most emails, but that way we'll end up with less idiots posting here.

    Schools send email emergency notices as part of a comms flood to get info out fast. No one with enough brain cells to power an AND gate is going to use email as the medium for any form of life critical communications.

    I'd suggest you check that the last gunman didn't actually blow your brains out. You seem to have lost them somewhere.

    </Snarky>

  13. Sean Nevin

    @Ir

    gmail has been free for, well, as long as it has existed. And one no longer needs an invite to sign up. www.gmail.com

    I might also point out, that if the thread of said gunman is so pressing, you'd probably be able to hear about it another way (gunshots are loud).

  14. Stuart Gray

    @Shad, Dick

    The point you seem to have missed is that it isn't the SENDER who is using Hotmail, but the RECIPIENTS. If the mailing list has more than 10 Hotmail RECIPIENTS, those beyond the first ten get blocked.

    Now, this is yet another reason to avoid Hotmail as the plague, but I also accept Ir's point (although as a Student, doesn't your academic institution have email?)

    Stuart

  15. Blain Hamon
    Paris Hilton

    @lr

    I agree with you, but wait. If you're a student, wouldn't you already have an email account with the university? lr@blah.edu? That way, emergency notifications could go to all@blah.edu...

  16. Kris Sweeney
    Gates Horns

    Received by Hotmail...

    The article states emails received by hotmail not sent via...

    It appears the problem is end users who have a hotmail account. Whether right or wrong they chose M$ and it seems M$ to have decided they know what their users should be reading!

  17. Maty

    @ir

    Just guessing here, starving student, but I assume your degree is not in a technology-based subject?

  18. Mat
    Coat

    re: Not an idiot, just a student

    Same thing - Surely! ;-)

  19. Brad Hutchings
    Dead Vulture

    No, you're an idiot. Really.

    And the way we can tell is that you posted basically the same response twice, but just different enough to indicate that you did double work.

  20. Matt

    [ ! ] There is an armed psycho on campus :O

    lr,

    If your school relies on email to notify students of emergencies, maybe you need to send an emergency email (flagged "high importance" with the subject written in capitals) to your governing body and politely ask that they change their policies :)

    Seriously, there is no guarantee of delivery of an email message, nor even a guarantee of notification if a message is not delivered. It doesn't matter what (or who's) email service the recipient uses. This needs to be considered when choosing email as a delivery method for emergency notifications.

  21. Mark Simon

    Re: Not an idiot, just a student

    ... the difference being ... ?

    Most students get an email account. Most people with Internet access get one or more free email accounts, usually with Web access. So, who needs to rely on Hotmail for emergency use?

    Mark

  22. Dam

    These comments are dull

    Thanks for reading.

  23. Mike Dunderdale

    Quite sensible really.

    You'll find that a lot of companies block messages sent to more than X recipients as it is often a common indicator of UCE bots mas mailing your system.

    Simple really, use a mailing list manager (eg Mailman) that allows you to throttle the number of recipients sent out at a time.

    And as a university IT manager, I'm fed up of the number of students whose quotas on hotmail/ other free acounts get exceeded stopping important course related information getting to the student. They get a university email account, and it should be used for this purpose.

  24. Simon Painter
    Thumb Down

    @ Shad

    Ah, another hotmail snob. What on earth makes you believe that an ISP mail account is somehow more respectable than a free web based email service?

    As ISP's like force 9 (my ISP, and officially in my eyes the worst in the business) prove, spam is not limited to hotmail and ISP's like force 9 are no more capable of protecting your email from hack attacks or spam.

    I use force 9 strictly as a connection provider, a job they do just about well enough to stop me leaving, however I would never trust them with my email as they have a poor track record on that front and wholly inadequate service (http://www.theinquirer.net/en/inquirer/news/2007/05/17/plusnet-suffers-hack-attack)

    I use gmail for my personal email because it's free, reliable and due to the size of the organisation which runs it, pretty stable. Most of the tin pot ISPs out there do not have adequate capacity or redundancy in their system and it's asking for trouble to trust your mail to them when these services (mail, webhosting etc) are not premium services and do not generate revenue for the ISP so will consequently be under invested and poorly planned.

  25. Cameron Colley

    Email as a source of alerts.

    Surely most people check their hotmail on the web? So, instead of sending out email to alert them of these things, why not publish it on a web site? That way those without ISP/institution-provided email (most people with mobile devices and the like will probably have this) can check the web page -- nicely side-stepping the whole "will it get caught in spam filters" situation.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not everyone knows that Hotmail is substandard.

    Sure, most people who read this site are probably savvy enough to realise that Hotmail isn't very good, but it has a huge presence out there in "user land". People even prefer to use a throwaway hotmail address to sign up to mailing lists etc because it's easy to replace if it gets over-spammed.

    Some people prefer hotmail to gmail because of all the fuss made about privacy violation when Google announced the service (I'm not saying hotmail is any more secure from snooping, just that "users" out there *see* it as more private; that's just the way the publicity cookie has crumbled).

    But they still want their stuff from the lists they signed up to until that point, whether they're emergency or not. In general, over the years I've been postmaster of our domain, I've had more trouble with non-delivery because of anti-spam measures than I have with just plain lost mail by an order of magnitude.

  27. MattW

    If you're a student you get free e-mail

    As others have said, use your provided account from your educational institution. The university I work at will now only communicate with students via their official university email account. If they want to check it off campus, they can use IMAP or gmail to access their POP3.

    But if you're expecting to send or indeed receive 'emergency' communications via an asynchronous medium such as email you've got a screw loose - might as well dispatch carrier pigeons....

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    eMail - Emergency Huh?

    eMail, SMS and even instant messaging are services that do not guarantee delivery to the intended recipient. Some misguided people thing they are all instant and always arrive, they don't. All you can ever hope is that some messages get to people in time.

    The real idiots are the people who think that just sending an electronic message is enough to warn people of anything. It's only of use to those who are on-line at the time the warning is relevant.

    I get fairly hacked off with the people in the SI I work for who send out urgent messages that don't expire as well, so that when I come back from holiday there will be several hundred urgent messages in my inbox that I don't need.

    Still sometimes I get a feeling of glee when I'm on a sunny beach and an SMS message pops up saying the Metropolitan Line is suspended between Aldgate and Harrow due to signal failure at Baker St.

  29. Roger
    Coat

    ermm...

    Regardless of how important the mail is - isn't the main point that hotmail is not filtering and delivering, but now censoring mail by deciding what they deliver?

  30. David Greaves

    Email - that well known 1:1 communication tool

    So basically Microsoft consider Hotmail no longer appropriate for use as a community communication tool?

    No mailing lists, no big cc lists.

    A lot of people will have started out on Hotmail and even now may not have the tech-savvy to know they're being screwed.

    How long I wonder until there's a cost option that lets Hotmail users use mailing lists? Either for the senders or the users?

    Nah, Microsoft would never do that!

  31. Dunstan Vavasour
    Paris Hilton

    Reliable means of communication

    It gets my goat when people use unreliable means of communication for critical information. Email is not a reliable medium. SMS is not a reliable medium. Voicemail is not a reliable medium. Telephoning someone and talking to them is (you know whether the message has been delivered).

    If this is being used for useful but non critical information (there's a 10 mile tailback on the M1, expect to be delayed for 90 minutes) then some sort of opt in mechanism is required. To just junk email because it's a mailing list which lots of people have opted into is pathetic.

  32. Nìall Tracey
    Joke

    Microsoft glossary.

    " The statement didn't explain how Willis's outfit could reasonably be categorized as "unknown or known to be bad." "

    Sender is unknown =

    Sender has not bought a subscription to a Microsoft whitelist or other service.

    Sender is known to be bad =

    Communists are bad. Open source is for commies. Mail headers identify sending mail client/server as open source. Sender is commie. Sender is bad.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Not stupid, brain-dead

    SMS are no better than email. There is no real always-on technology. Email is robust and cheap to implement and thus is the best solution for many alerts emergency or otherwise.

  34. Trevor Durity

    nothing new

    What an odd article - MS have been doing this for ages. No mass-mailer, no matter how legit can count on mails getting through to hotmail & Jeff is in the lucky case that he actually receives an acknowledgement of blocking by the Hotmail server. Do a quick Google and you will see that many organisations are encountering the situation where the emails leave their system, reach Hotmail & just disappear - no error message to originating server, nothing in recipient's spam box & no warning to the recipient that there was ever a mail blocked. Doesn't happen with Gmail or Yahoo BTW.

    Bottom line, this is an old issue and he should just put a message on his site to tell users that message delivery can't be guaraunteed to that service.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Hotmail

    While this news item is about emergency alerts ... I've found that my friends who use hotmail don't always get my responses to e-mails.

    I've no way of knowing if they got it or not, and in two cases, two friends thought I'd got the hump by 'not replying' even though I had.

    Only allowing 10 messages per IP per hour or whatever might be stopping spam - but it seems it's stopping everything. Should I be pressing the send button dead on the hour to ensure I'm the first person to send an email from that IP address that hour?!

  36. Luke Wells

    Its free so....

    Why do people complain about free email providers?

    They can do whatever they want.

    If you dont like hotmails rules then for a couple of quid per month you can have your own domain name and hosted pop3 service.

    I think it looks really unprofessional when you fill in a webmail form on a website requesting comtact and the business responds to you by sending an email from their hotmail account.

  37. Jay Zelos

    Student Email Accounts

    Although in Norfolk (UK) all students are provided with an email account by the local education authority, this is considered unusual. In most authorities schools are expected to provide email accounts themselves should they choose to. Many simply don't see the need, or tell students to use free services like Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail etc. So 'ir' who posted above has an entirely valid point.

    I also know of at least one college and 6th form who don't provide email accounts, so its not just limited to pre 16 education.

  38. The Mighty Biff

    Clearly no student

    His spelling's far too good for that. And he's even used punctuation ! Like totally ! OMG !

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you want working email, what are you using Hotmail for?

    Hotmail sucks. It flat out refuses to deliver any email from me to any of their unfortunate clients. It routinely puts emails into the "super secret spam folder" as well as throwing the head up and listing as spam emails from people who have been in communication with the recipient for years.

    If I send a reminder of a party or other appointment to 50 people, it is REQUIRED (not "recommended") by the rfc that it is delivered and in fact the load on the ISP is lower because I can simply send the message once with a long list of recipients. Hotmail is actually making MORE traffic by requiring the same message to be sent 5 times to batches of 10 recipients.

    It's got nothing to do with handling spam or reducing traffic and everything to do with Microsoft employing only people that care nothing about quality of product/service (because no one else would willingly work for them).

  40. Chris

    @Dunstan

    "It gets my goat when people use unreliable means of communication for critical information. Email is not a reliable medium. SMS is not a reliable medium. Voicemail is not a reliable medium. Telephoning someone and talking to them is (you know whether the message has been delivered)."

    But what if the information has to go to several hundred people? You would call them all?

    And we know how reliable snail mail is at the moment...

  41. Mary

    10 is too small a number

    I've just had a look through my contacts list, and no less than 25 of my "friends and family" group of contacts are using hotmail as their primary personal email address. I'm sure most of them have other email addresses too, but these are usually work ones that they don't want personal stuff going to.

    So if I move house, and try, not unreasonably, to send out an email to the group of people listed as "friends and family" in my contacts to tell them my new address - no matter which of my own addresses I send it from - fifteen of them won't get the email because by MS standards, I'm a spammer. Is that about the size of it?

  42. Tom

    Not so Hotmail

    The standard is 100 per email, not 10 per hour.

    Even if it's some "joke of the day" email or The Register daily headlines it should work if you only send out 100 recipients at a time.

  43. Eric Olson

    Phone call the only reliable communcation?

    I think the point being missed here is that the ability to set up a phone bank able to deliver say 10,000 automated messages within a 10 minute time period is nigh impossible for your average school, business, or anyone really. I'm not sure a teleco could actually handle that kind of upswing in usage. The Mpls Bridge Collapse, the cell network was brought to it's knees by average citizens calling loved ones and emergency workers. Add in 100,000 more callers because the Metro Transit Authority called out with the news and it's impact on traffic, and the University of MN contacted it's 70,000 students, faculty, and staff regarding the collapse via phone, and suddenly you have a dead cellular network that moots the idea that a phone call with actual contact, not VM, is the best way to disseminate news. And since the most likely location of a phone call of important means would be the phone you'd have on you, I would think that an emergency situation that called everyone on the list as quickly as possible would render the network inoperable, impacting other critical communication (discussion for another time).

    So, around here, since the Virginia Tech massacre, schools have invested in systems that will text, email, and broadcast messages on electronic boards across campus. They are also starting to use Facebook groups to post intruder and other "important but not critical you need to hear about it right away" news. So, this company is providing a service that needs to reach as many people as fast as possible, and text and email are really the only way to do this with current limitations. Some people will get missed, others will get blocked or ignored. Since this company lists its E-Alert as being used by schools, transit authorities, and airports, my feeling is that we have a situation where upwards of 100,000 people might need to be contacted. The issue here only becomes a problem, in my mind, if MS and MIS Sciences aren't able to come together and make it go away. If MS clings to it's policy (which was stated to be applied to only unknown or blacklisted IPs), it should be able to add the mail server to a list of good IPs, and allow unfettered access. This is an opt-in process on MIS's side, there is no reason such communications should be blocked after it has been brought to MS's attention.

  44. hans-peter carpenter
    Joke

    Who uses hotmail anyway?

    I started to connect to the internet somewhere near 1997 or 98, back then netscape gave you 2.5 times more space and allowed you to send 3 times larger emails than hotmail - and AFAIK hotmail has been consistently lagging behind other providers! So only idiots use that service for a start! The guyz that click next > next > next when they first run ie and land on msn/hotmail page to register for an email account! Abusing monopoly, nay?

    Besides, netscape, which is aim now, gives you IMAP access, which is cool, too - your not stuck with <Dutch>Foutlook</Dutch> - platform independence, anybody?

    I have had a hotmail account, i hardly ever used it for email but got spammed to death - I never even used that address in online forms ??? Were they selling my address? I enrolled to chat with msn and occasionally, a mate would send a mail to my hotmail address. I know you no longer need a hotmail account to chat with msn, unsure if you ever did. Now I use another email address for my passport account!

    Besides, which idiot uses their ISP's email? Duh, I do not want to change my email address every two years, so I will stick with this more expensive and less reliable ISP - pass me the Vaseline please!

    Thank god stupidity is not painful, I can tell ya!

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Simple Answer MIS Services is a "Web Hosting Company"

    Folks,

    Aside from the valid arguement that email and or sms is an unreliable way to communicate, the fact is that MIS Services is also a Web Hosting company and that alone is probably enough to get blocked. All it takes is a few complaints of spam/malware and a web host will get on someones blacklist which will get picked up by many ISP's without question, including Hotmail.

    I haven't checked, but it is likely that their mail servers share similar addresses with their hosting servers.

    MIS Services also has the GSA account for "eAlerts". Perhaps some BOFH at Hotmail bid for the same contract and lost? Only supposition.

  46. Rachel

    I can see it now.

    Anyone else think that, after reading these comments, that the next phishing email is going to be an alert.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    Timely Warning - Campus Crime Alert

    Campus Shooting

    A shooter has been reported on campus. Please call [insert number here] in order to receive more information on this situation.

    ----------------------------------------------------

  47. Dick

    @ a bunch of people

    Let me re-phrase my comment so it's crystal clear:

    If you rely on a crap free email service like hotmail to receive critical safety notifications - you're an idiot.

    If you sell a commercial critical safety notification service and you allow subscribers to sign up a crap free email account like hotmail - you're an idiot (or a scammer) if you don't point out to that user that there is no way they can rely on your service.

  48. Jeff

    From MIS Sciences

    A little clarity is needed. We operate our own high-speed mail servers, capable of delivering millions messages per hour. We DO NOT send using hotmail.

    MIS Sciences is also a commercial web hosting company but its eAlert division is completely independent, running its own IP ranges, not shared with any hosting clients and each agency we send for has their own dedicated IP. We send by telephone, SMS, RSS, web updates, email, signge, notifications to local media (radio stations, etc). All agencies we send for are configured with all known anti-spam measures (domain keys, SPF records, bonded white lists, etc. We have been sending alerts for government agencies and universities for over six years without issues.

    As a service, we can not tell clients we will not sent to “free” email accounts, users are free to choose their own method of communication and the users should expect a certain level of reliability from who ever they choose as their email provider.

    I agree, students should use their university accounts, but not using a university email account is not a reason to be denied the ability to receive email!

    Other major providers (AOL, Verizon, Earth Link, etc.) have white listed our servers to ensure these “alert” messages are delivered. It was Microsoft who decided that no one should be allowed to send to more than 10 messages per hour to any of their "free" mail servers", regardless of the legitimacy of the email. The issue was the “too bad” attitude from Microsoft which was doing a dis-service to their clients and creating more of a problem that they are trying to solve.

    Shortly after this article was posted by Dan Goodin, Microsoft contacted our offices in an effort to resolve this issue and work with our technicians to ensure no “alert” messages are blocked

    Jeff Willis

    MIS Sciences Corporation

  49. RW
    Jobs Halo

    Legal Documents via email

    Somewhere fairly recently I read that a court somewhere had okayed sending certain legal notifications via email. [Sorry I can't remember the details!]

    When I read that, I wondered if the honorable judge, or whoever made that decision, was aware that email isn't guaranteed delivery.

    In fact, doesn't the DMCA allow notification of violations to be sent via email?

    "Sorry, your lordship, but we did not receive the necessary notification; Hotmail must've deleted it."

    Sounds sorta like the classic excuse "the dog ate my homework."

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Hotmail is to be commended here..

    .. for trying to do something about the absurd levels of spam that blight everybody's email. If that inconveniences those who really do want to send the same email to thousands of recipents or those idiots who think email is a suitable medium for emergency announcements then tough - let them get a different spam friendly ISP. In fact I think any ISP willing to introduce far more draconian limitations on mass mailings in or out would be welcomed by the vast majority of users.

  51. Daniel Ballado-Torres
    Thumb Up

    email

    Back in '96, I used our ISP account for email. I didn't trust "free" email, because of reasons that actually ended up being true (either they'd dissappear or turn into pay-for services) though Hotmail did live on. Plus, back then most services would not like "free email" accounts for validation, and I think that rule still stands to this day.

    Currently, I use free mail because it is more likely to use that for a long time than ISP or work emails, that usually change every 2 years.

    As for emergency messaging, email sucks for that, but SMS is a fairly reliable medium for that; my current job uses that for "critical" announcements. There's nothing like getting "CICS CRASH: SERVICES DOWN" on a Friday night. Ow.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    problem with using the school email

    ...is that if the server room is affected by the emergency, the whole system won't work. You don't just plan for armed psychos -- you might have weather emergencies, power delivery problems, someone mis-directing an airplane into the network center, whatever.

    Sure, any good server farm has power and communications redundancies, but if you're planning for crises that can affect any part of your organization, you do your notifications entirely out-of-band.

  53. Ron

    Simple question to those that thik the MS restriction is a good thing

    For all of you who use Hotmail and think the restrictions placed by Microsoft are a good thing, I have only one question.

    How many legitimate emails did you NOT receive because of the inbound restrictions placed by Hotmail?

  54. Jeff

    Restrictions are a good thing

    Given the cries of outrange and general handwringing over SPAM, I completely agree with the Microsoft/Hotmail approach on handling mass emails.

    Email should simply not be considered a guaranteed service, much like regular physical mail. If something is 'critical', don't simply use a bleeding-heart cry like 'but what about all the disabled people?' Instead, find a more appropriate medium, or mix of media, to communicate.

    I have come across instances of my emails being caught by filters to certain destinations. I don't care- I just adapt to it and think that it's good that someone is at least trying to reduce potential SPAM.

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