After Hotmail Outage, Privacy Fears

Microsoft's Hotmail email service suffered a temporary outage Tuesday related to problems with the Windows Live ID user-authentication technologies. And although the service is now back up and running normally, there are limited reports that some users' accounts might have been compromised during the outage, allowing others to view account details and other private information.

"Around 9:30 a.m. PST \[Tuesday\], the Windows Live ID sign-in service experienced a partial outage: Some customers were unable to sign in to services using Windows Live ID for approximately one hour," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "The service is now restored to normal. Microsoft apologizes for any inconvenience this has caused customers." A posting to the Windows Live blog expanded on the explanation, noting that the outage was "due to the failure of one server, increasing the load on our remaining servers \[and causing\] Windows Live ID logins to fail for some customers."

Hotmail is one of the most popular email services on Earth, with hundreds of millions of users, so this outage could have hit a wide audience. And although any failure of a web-based service is sure to raise new concerns about cloud computing, this outage comes with an additional twist in the form of potential privacy violations.

These reports are currently limited, but Microsoft is investigating. "Microsoft takes customers' privacy seriously, and immediately upon learning of these reports, we started an investigation," a Microsoft statement reads. "We will take appropriate action once we have completed the investigation."

The Hotmail outage also comes amidst widespread outrage over a new social networking feature, Buzz, which Google added to its own Gmail email service. According to privacy advocates, Buzz "breaks privacy laws," and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate. At issue are the service's bizarre opt-in policies and lack of customization. Some have complained that Buzz gave anonymous strangers access to their private contacts list. Google has changed the service twice in the past week to address complaints but has done little to quell the furor. Google admits that its users are "rightfully upset" and says that it is "very, very sorry."

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