Go here to read the rest of the story, and how to protect your privacy in Hotmail.
By Woody Leonhard In its rush to take on Facebook and Google Buzz, Microsoft is now collecting and displaying personal information on your Hotmail page — information you may never have wanted to broadcast.Exactly how it's mining this information is something of a mystery, but if you use Hotmail or Windows Live, it's time to review your privacy settings — lest something you said or did comes back to haunt you.One user signed in to her Hotmail account recently and was greeted with Microsoft's new, improved social networking splash page, shown in Figure 1.What's wrong with this picture? All three What's new with your network entries contain potentially embarrassing information that the authors never dreamed would appear on someone else's Hotmail sign-in page. I speak with authority — I'm one of the contacts.This looks like a heavy-handed attempt by Microsoft to expand its Windows Live Spaces social networking out to the zillions of people who use Hotmail. A controversial move in a confusing marketplace, it's reminiscent of the Buzz privacy debacle that got Google into hot water with several governments (as reported in a Deutsche Welle story). In essence, Microsoft is signing you up for a Windows Live Spaces account without your consent.The new format brings up some disturbing questions: How, for example, does Microsoft come up with a list of your network contacts, when you've never created one in the first place? How does Microsoft find the What's new items — little tidbits of information about those in your network, the network that you didn't know you had until just now? Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered.Where the 'what's new' list gets its faces In an e-mail, I asked Microsoft two questions: Where do they get the list of your network contacts that appears on the Hotmail login page? And how do they harvest the content that appears next to each contact? A Microsoft spokeswoman replied with an e-mail that simply stated:"Hi Woody,Please see the Windows Live 'What's New' feed permissions work to answer your questions.http://help.live.com...permissions.htm "(Microsoft doesn't allow its spokespersons to be identified by name.)The link goes to instructions on how to set your Spaces profile permissions. Using a tedious procedure described at the end of this story, you can keep Microsoft from divulging some kinds of information. But what you see and what the world sees on your new Hotmail start-up page is the way it's meant to be. Even though I don't know for sure where Microsoft gets its Hotmail content, I can make a few educated guesses.If you subscribe to Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces, you have a list of What's new with your network contacts. Microsoft uses that list to come up with the names that appear on your Hotmail startup screen. If, however, you never signed up for Live Spaces, it looks like MS draws the What's new information primarily from the people you've IM'd using Microsoft Live Messenger. (You can check this by instant-messaging someone new and seeing whether that person then shows up on your Hotmail page.)It also looks like Microsoft draws the names in the Hotmail What's new list from your Hotmail contacts. Microsoft has many different contact lists (Hotmail, Messenger, Live Mail, Outlook, Spaces, etc.), and it appears Microsoft's scheme is to expand its social networking system by combining all these lists. Fortunately, it can't do that unless you give your consent (and your contacts may have to give their consent as well). Microsoft also lets you draw names from other social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, AOL, and others.