June 3, 2004 2:03 PM PDT

Hotmail incinerates customer files

Alexandria Felton logged on to her Hotmail account last month and was shocked to find that all of her saved files were gone.

At stake was years' worth of personal and business correspondence, photos and the itinerary for a recently purchased trip, the San Jose, Calif., health care worker said. Frantic, she called the Microsoft-run e-mail service, only to get worse news: Due to "system events," the files were gone forever, and there was nothing to be done about it, a technical support staffer eventually replied.

"It's scary," Felton said. "These services are easy and free, so people don't even think about using them. But they should know there are risks. I won't store so much stuff on Hotmail again."

Felton's story offers a new twist on the ever-present danger of data destruction in the digital age, throwing a spotlight on the responsibilities of online service providers. Meanwhile, consumers are being bombarded with promotions for vast amounts of free storage--up to 1 gigabyte's worth in the case of Google's new Gmail Web-based e-mail and a slew of copycat services.

Consumers have been burned in the past. For example, service providers hosting customer files online folded suddenly at the end of the dot-com boom. Online storage providers such as Myspace.com and I-Drive.com that collapsed at the time gave scant notice, and some customers complained of lost files. Online photo site PhotoPoint closed down with no notice at all, although it later offered to return files to its 1.25 million customers if they paid a fee.

In a statement, Microsoft said "issues" have occasionally beset its Hotmail service, although the most recent case appears to have affected only Felton's free account.

"We put many precautions in place to protect our network and assure against customer data loss, which includes regular system backups to prevent file storage issues," Brooke Richardson, product manager for MSN and Hotmail, wrote in an e-mail. "That said, we recognize that issues can arise...In this case specifically, it appears to be an isolated incident that is not recurring within our customer base. We are working to understand how the customer's data was lost, but we are not able to recover the customer's files."

Legal experts said there is generally little recourse for consumers in the event of data loss on services such as Hotmail, which are typically covered by terms-of-service agreements that provide broad liability exemptions.

"In general, consumers are out of luck," said Ira Rothken, an attorney based in San Rafael, Calif., who has litigated such cases in the past. "Frankly, it's understandable. There are always going to be glitches that lead to data loss."

He said consumers can protect themselves by ensuring that valuable files are adequately backed up. Some Web-based e-mail services, such as Yahoo Mail, allow customers to download e-mail to their desktops and retrieve them using a PC-based e-mail client such as Microsoft's Outlook. Online storage services such as IBackup, Xdrive and Connected also provide file backup services for a monthly fee.

Raghu Kulkarni, a spokesman for IBackup, said demand for online storage services is growing. The privately held company serves thousands of customers who subscribe to service packages that run from $3 to $800 a month. The most popular plan costs $14.95 a month for a 4GB backup plan.

But he offers a sobering note: Online storage companies don't guarantee customers a fail-safe backup system.

"We do not provide a 100 percent guarantee that the backup will take place," he said. "That cannot be guaranteed by anyone. That's just because of the nature of the Internet--it's very difficult to provide a 100 percent guarantee."

34 comments

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And they wonder why "renting" software never takes off...
This data loss brought to you by the company who was betting that we'd all want to "rent" all our software from them, using online versions of Word and Excel and everything else. Yet they continue to scratch their heads, wondering why the public doesn't trust the concept.

Online storage is great -- I use it myself to make easy web pages for photos. But it's not the only place I store ANYTHING -- I want it on a computer that's under my control, or copied to a CD or DVD that *I* can take responsibility for. People who are willing to trust some huge company to safeguard their information (for FREE) are asking for problems...which doesn't make it any easier when it comes.
Posted by E B (267 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free online storage
If you do a follow up article, may want to mention yahoo.com's briefcase offers 30 mb free online storage.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Same thing happened to me!
I too lost all my hotmail files last November 2003. I logged in one day and every email was missing except for the folders. I called MSN and they were sorry, but they were unable to restore my lost e-mails as they appear to have been permanantly deleted from their servers due to the technical problem they experienced. The difference between me and the person in the article, I purchased their 10MB extra storage option. I am a paying customer. Once again, they were sorry and stated they do not maintain any back log of deleted mails from Hotmail accounts. They assumed I deleted all my mail, but left the empty folders.
Posted by gmada (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Paying customer had the same bad experience
I bought the 10Mb storage option. Repeated attempts to contact MS through phone and e-mail resulted only in irritation, which was only slightly offset by the creative use of English.

Here's a sample:

Hi Corry,

I understand your frustratoin regarding the e-mails that were lost from your Hotmail account (millercor@hotmail.com)., I see that you've used our service for 2+ years. Durring that time frame you've had one troublehshooting tickit logged with us. Unfortunately from time to time things happen. If you take a look at the terms of use agreement that you ok'd when you signed up with hotmail you'll see that we are not responsible for any monitary loss associated with using hotmail and considering you've had two years of service with this one issue I don't see grounds for a refund and listed in the agreement with MSN Hotmail Extra storage is a notice that the fee is non-refundable.

Thank you
MSN Billing.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
And I'll bet there are thousands more of us!
I logged on to my Hotmail accoun t and thought I'd check some
health site messages I had stored there - all gone.
Now for those of you who are interested, I didn't get burned so
badly because I had forwarded from my Hotmail account to my
regular account (where messages are stored on my computer) all
important messages, business and personal.
Yes, it can fill up your computer if you don't spend a little time
transferring text messages to M Works or Apple Works and filing
them on CD-rw or DVD-rw. But if you spend the moments
forwarding and filing, you lose nothing.
In any event, you pay one way or another for what seems free.
Posted by Riphly (15 comments )
Link Flag
Me Too! - Dallas, Texas
MSN/Hotmail lost my critical emails as well...and I had PURCHASED 10MB extra storage...

So the reader who complained that we were fools about trusting a free service is full of BUNK.

Go ahead and get off hotmail. You'll get SPAMMED
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Journalist Seeking Details
Hello...
I am a producer with a national television news syndication company. We produce television segments that air within the local newscasts nationwide. I am working on a story about the loss of stored email. I would like to talk with you about your experience and see if you might be interested in participating in the story. You can reach me via email at mtoccin@bellsouth.net Thanks
Marisa Toccin
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Heading is misleading
The heading, and other intro blurbs about this story are
misleading. They suggest that lots of people have lost files on
Hotmail, when in fact only one person has reported anything
lost.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
3 different individuals had this problem
see above comments-- obviously there are more of us out there. MS needs to address this properly!
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Hotmail is a JOKE, You PAY for a real email account.
anybody using Hotmail is asking for trouble !
Posted by grey_eminence (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hotmail good for spam
I use hotmail whenever I order something or post in newgroups.
This way all the spam goes to that account, while me real email
is used for friends and family.
Posted by Gerald Quaglia (72 comments )
Link Flag
Looking for real security?
The free web based services offered by the lost leaders do not provide any security... <a class="jive-link-external" href="https://www.safe-mail.net" target="_newWindow">https://www.safe-mail.net</a> is the only true web based full featured secure email and data security service available.....
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Personal backup still a joke
I'll agree with the sub-point of this article that backup is increasingly important. The real problem I find with this is there is not a very cost effective solution for home users in this field. IBackup could be great if your talking about small doses of data. But when your storage needs are easier mesured in the terabyte relm your up the creek (and yes a lot of that is stick but even just getting that inital backup would be a crippling venture).
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hotmail loses mail
this is certainly not an isolated event as they are claiming. i lost two hotmail accounts (with years of messages) in the same time frame.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Journalist Seeking Details
Hello...
I am a producer with a national television news syndication company. We produce television segments that air within the local newscasts nationwide. I am working on a story about the loss of stored email. I would like to talk with you about your experience and see if you might be interested in participating in the story. You can reach me via email at mtoccin@bellsouth.net Thanks and I'll look foward to speaking with you,
Marisa Toccin
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
And I'll Bet There Are Thousands Of Us! (Solution!)
And I'll bet there are thousands more of us!

Posted by: Robert Healey

Posted on: June 4, 2004, 7:58 AM PDT

Story: Hotmail incinerates customer files

I logged on to my Hotmail accoun t and thought I'd check some
health site messages I had stored there - all gone.
Now for those of you who are interested, I didn't get burned so
badly because I had forwarded from my Hotmail account to my
regular account (where messages are stored on my computer) all
important messages, business and personal.
Yes, it can fill up your computer if you don't spend a little time
transferring text messages to M Works or Apple Works and filing
them on CD-rw or DVD-rw. But if you spend the moments
forwarding and filing, you lose nothing.
In any event, you pay one way or another for what seems free.
Posted by Riphly (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Drop The Service
Just a comment: If a Mail Service(any service)loses your mail NO MATTER WHAT THE REASON....why would you continue using that service .....If you do, that service really dosent have worry about the oopie's does it....Lose your messages from the the same service twice....Severs You Right ..if enough people drop the service, maybe they will more apt to care.
Posted by cobbie (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You Get What You Pay For
No one is buying anything to get a hotmail acct so can they really be called consumers? Anyone that puts valuable info solely in a product they have no control over should take their licks, berate themselves for being that dumb and learn from their mistake. Lest we forget, your essentially handing your prized documents over to Microsoft for safe keeping. Enough said?
Posted by TJWJ (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Waaah! You get what you paid for...
I never, ever count on any external entity to save my valuable data, photos, etc. unless I signed up (and pay for) storage service, and that I know they have a service level agreement to be able to restore the data. Whether it is HOTMAIL.COM, JUNO, YAHOO! MAIL, Google, etc, any free or low cost e-mail service is just an Internet message delivery system, not a personal storage system.

Learn to backup your data on your own. Only you can make a difference...

--GIF
Posted by treet007 (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Duh...
I have to agree with you, GF. I just cannot believe that someone would entrust a year's worth of personal and business e-mails to Hotmail. Geez, get a real email account, will ya? And do some backups, if that stuff is that important to you. And for those that use Hotmail, YAHOO, AOL, or any other such service for business e-mail, I'd have a good chuckle if someone with an email adress of 'xxx@hotmail.com' sent me a business e-mail - get serious! It's like showing up for an important job interview in shorts and a tee-shirt.

TT
Posted by tttaff (1 comment )
Link Flag
I agree.
I have several hotmail accounts for the portability, but I pull everything down for backup with Thunderbird. The idea of storing anything permanantly "out there" on the Net is laughable.
Posted by Atmos42 (4 comments )
Link Flag
backup is essential
After 20 years working in government, I find the excuse that "stuff happens" after loosing customer files is shocking. Large computer centers have long-established, working backup systems. "Oops" is not an excuse, it is only bad management. If government lost customer files for all Medicare accounts, the sky would fall! This is a case of greed compromising indrusty standard computer operations policies.
Posted by CmdCrane (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Same thing happened to me.
It has only been happening recently. I just now had 4 dissappear in about 10 mins after receiving. I was in the middle of opening them when they dissappeared.
Sometimes there will be a whole month in the middle of my emails missing. I have learned to copy any incoming important mail to another folder out of hotmail in my outlook bar.
That is if I get a chance to read it. They were so good for so many years, don't know what is going on lately.
Posted by Cirick (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Profit margin
What happened is that Microsoft trimmed or completely removed their backup systems and policies in order to try and offset a shrinking profit.

I too have lost my entire account but like others I learned long ago not to trust important information to someone elses server.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
Journalist Seeking Details
Hello...
I am a producer with a national television news syndication company. We produce television segments that air within the local newscasts nationwide. I am working on a story about the loss of stored email. I would like to talk with you about your experience and see if you might be interested in participating in the story. You can reach me via email at mtoccin@bellsouth.net Thanks and I'll look foward to speaking with you,
Marisa Toccin
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
Hotmail issues? Oh well...
Listen, as much as it pains me to defend M$, the Hotmail account is free (even though I pay for the extra features). The incredible volume of spam and worse is reliably filtered, the account affords me some anonymous place for fluffy stuff I do, and it allows me the net passport. Hey, for the gazillion of users, Hotmail is still the best freebie out there. Want security? Get a real email acccount. And THOSE aren't foolproof. Backup, backup, backup....
Posted by rbryan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Save it to your hard drive!
I, too have used Hotmail, MSN, and a plethora of other "free" e-mail services to correspond with others, and file storage used to be an issue to me, too. I started saving the files to my local hard drive - It benefitted me 2 ways - I didn't have to worry about file loss (unless MY hard drive crashed - which has happened!) and it allowed me to access the files without having to log on to the service to read them. This way, if their files crash, or they go out of business, or I "exceed my limit", I don't have to worry, as I have my files on hand. It works!
Posted by davejyd (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Deleted hotmail from time limit
Hotmail very inconsierately deleted all my mil and prompted me
to follow new guidelines in order to "keep" my free account. Is
Hotmail going through puberty blues, as I am also finding it
ludecrously hard to create a new account for a friend of mine
and there are no links to do this- only passport. What is going
on?
I only use hotmail as a MSN Messenger facilitator and as
website ID instead of my business account with .mac. I thought
it was very harsh to delete these files as there were some
sentimental letters from years back- I can live without them but
now I must visit hotmail every 10 days for three months. I can
understand trying to clean up their system, but this is absurd
and unwarranted. Are Microsoft going to disband Hotmail? Is
this why I cant find an easy way to get a new account up?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This was not limited to just a few customers
All mine files are gone as well. I had over 5 years of stuff saved. I only use my hotmail periodically, but even so, I had important things saved in there from over the years.
The ONLY upside is that the THOUSANDS of junk mail that filled my inbox and that have become the bane of hotmail(which is what drove me to use it less and less, incidentally) are miraculously gone. How long before it comes back?
I think they should have fixed the junk mail problem rather that "fix" hotmail - which WASN'T BROKEN!!!
Posted by diafel1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The Hotmail practice of losing / wiping off customer emails is still happening today (July 2008).
As late as a couple of weeks ago, all my emails, (some dating from 10-12 years ago) were all there.
A couple of days ago, however, I discovered that most of them have -simply- disappeared/vanished/been incinerated (you choose word).
What was most deplorable though was that the Hotmail Support team was putting the blame on me by suggesting and taking it for granted that I deleted my emails myself.
Obviously, apart from ridiculous, I find their arrogance and disrespect as most disturbing.
Posted by mnzs (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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