January 03, 2011, 8:35 PM — Hot on the heels of what was possibly the first major cloud data leak a few weeks ago, as the new year got underway Microsoft followed up by appearing to wipe the e-mails of a significant number of Hotmail users.
In what is almost certainly a date bug, users upon logging in were greeted with a completely sanitized inbox and new-user welcome screen, similar to what those who haven't used the service for 270 days see when their data is summarily deleted.
Microsoft claims to have fixed the problem and restored the e-mails, but it's been a worrisome few days for many users.
Hotmail is the world's most popular Web-based e-mail service, with 364 million users. Although figures have not been released about how many were affected by this issue, nearly 500 people posted complaints to the Windows Live Solution Center. That's 500 users who bothered to complain, or know how to do so.
Bearing in mind that Hotmail is a service used by many technically-illiterate users, the total number of those affected is likely to be huge. If only one percent of Hotmail users were affected, then 3.6 million annoyed individuals were hit.
Microsoft responded in fire-fighting fashion, claiming this was a "limited issue" and apologizing for the inconvenience. Users might well feel despair at such a pathetic excuse.
The problem arrived at a particularly bad time for Microsoft, which will soon launch Office 365, its first major attempt at a cloud-based office suite. If Microsoft can't reliably maintain a cloud-based e-mail service that it's owned since the last century, is it safe to trust the company with business data?
Although Google or alternative Web mail providers could capitalize on the slip-up, they'd be advised not to throw stones from houses made of glass. A significant number of Gmail users have seen their entire inbox disappear from time to time.