Hotmail Addresses Passed Around

WASHINGTON — Hotmail, the free e-mail service from Microsoft, is divulging subscribers’ e-mail addresses, cities and states to a public Internet directory site that combines the information with telephone numbers and home addresses.

Hotmail customers are automatically added to Infospace’s Internet White Pages directory unless they remove the check from a box in their registration form and “opt out,” company officials said. Critics say users may be putting themselves at risk of receiving junk e-mail, known as spam, because they overlook the check box. Once their information makes the directory, it is easily obtained by advertisers. “Once your e-mail addresses get into the spammers’ databases, you can’t get it out again,” said Internet activist Bennett Haselton, who made the discovery.

Sarah Lefko, product manager for MSN, Microsoft’s Internet service, said Hotmail is complying with the company’s privacy policy because consumers can choose whether they want to be in the directory or not. “We’re clearly stating what this is,” Lefko said. “It’s a consumer benefit.” Hotmail’s privacy policy states that Microsoft will not “sell, lease or rent” users’ e-mail addresses. Lefko declined comment on Microsoft’s business relationship with Infospace, or whether there was money involved in the deal.

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