REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 18, 2004 — Since Microsoft introduced the MSN Internet service in 1995, customer satisfaction and protection have been top priorities. The company has long sought to build trust with consumers by continually improving the protections and other features in MSN services, such as MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger.
Brian Arbogast, Corporate Vice President, MSN Communications Platform
As MSN gets set to introduce the latest update to its MSN Hotmail, PressPass sat down with Brian Arbogast, Microsoft corporate vice president for the MSN Communications Platform, to get a progress report on the popular Web e-mail service and the investments MSN is making overall to help provide a seamless and protected online experience for its customers.
PressPass: Tell us a little about your role at MSN and within Microsoft — and how your job pertains to helping protect MSN customers.
Arbogast: Sure. I wear two hats at Microsoft. As corporate vice president of the MSN Communications Platform group, I oversee the teams that develop the core technology for world-leading communications services, such as MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger. I’m also in charge of efforts to extend MSN services to mobile devices and to integrate these services into the offerings of other mobile operators around the world.
I’m also the executive sponsor for privacy under the Trustworthy Computing initiative, and for Microsoft’s anti-spam, anti-phishing and consumer safety issues. In this role, I am responsible for helping create and maintain best practices in these areas, as well as develop the technologies that help us attain these best practices.
This dual role allows me to ensure MSN is not only providing customers the best possible online services, but also that its services remain at the cutting edge of Microsoft’s efforts to protect the online security and privacy of our customers.
PressPass: Today you began rolling out an upgrade to Hotmail. What’s new with the service?
Arbogast: Today we’re completing an upgrade to MSN Hotmail that we began this summer. The focus of this release has been on improving Hotmail to address the areas we know matter most to our customers. First and foremost, they want protection and tools to help make them more productive and help bring them closer to the people that matter most to them.
The most visible change for consumers is a big one: Today we’re increasing storage for new Hotmail customers. While over the last several months we’ve been upgrading existing customers to larger storage space, at this time new MSN Hotmail customers in nine markets including the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the U.K. will have the ability to obtain 250MB of free storage with a new Hotmail account. When they sign up for a Hotmail account they will instantly get 25MB of storage and the ability to send 10MB attachments and will be upgraded automatically to 250MB of storage after 30 days of creating the new account. We created a storage waiting period to ensure that new accounts are used by qualified customers and are not being generated by spammers or malicious users.
In terms of helping customers be more productive, we’ve added a few tools. This summer we introduced personal information management tools for free customers, including a calendar with calendar-sharing capabilities, tasks and notes. Today we’re introducing a new photo-upload tool in Hotmail to make it faster and easier for customers to share digital pictures with the people that mean the most to them.
We’re also introducing local country domains in several markets.
PressPass: What changes have you made to Hotmail in terms of protection?
Arbogast: We rolled out free antivirus scanning and cleaning in July to all of our free Hotmail customers worldwide. This was an important investment. Not only did it help protect our customers; it helped the overall e-mail community with whom these customers interact.
With this upgrade, we’ve also begun implementing infrastructure support for the Sender ID framework. While not yet visible to consumers, this new anti-spam initiative helps combat domain spoofing, a common practice used by spammers to alter an e-mail’s “From” address to make it appear like the mail is from a legitimate sender.
PressPass: You mentioned the addition of country domains to MSN Hotmail. Can you explain how this will help customers?
Arbogast: We are excited to expand the MSN Hotmail account possibilities and introduce country-specific domain names for the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Japan. A country domain is really just a country specific address. For instance, if you live in the U.K., instead of getting an e-mail address @hotmail.com, you’ll be able to get one @hotmail.co.uk. Let’s face it, with 187 million customers around the world using Hotmail, getting the exact e-mail address you want isn’t always easy. The new domains will allow for Hotmail customers in these five markets to more easily find desirable e-mail names within their country. Free accounts in the new domains will continue to receive all the benefits of the classic Hotmail service, including free anti-virus scanning and cleaning features, life management tools, rich e-mail capabilities and storage.
PressPass: Is protecting customers any different for MSN than other online networks and services companies?
Arbogast: I think it’s fair to say that we all face similar challenges. Like other companies that provide online services, MSN must not only create business practices that adequately protect customer information, but we must also work to protect our customers from those who try to use our services and the Internet to take advantage of our customers. As a result, we need to maintain several levels of protections.
The size, scale and worldwide scope of MSN’s services also compound these challenges. We serve more than 360 million unique users each month via localized versions of our portal and other services in 40 markets and 20 languages. As a global business, we need to be cognizant of cultural norms as well as rules and regulations around the world.
PressPass: At what point in the process of development and delivery does MSN begin factoring in customer protections?
Arbogast: To be truly effective, protections must be woven throughout the development cycle and all of our business processes. The mandatory checkpoints that all MSN products, services and business processes must now pass before they can launch are important safeguards. But you can’t wait until the end of the development cycle to begin thinking about protection. You have to raise the bar throughout your organization.
That’s why MSN offers training for all staff in the areas of security and privacy. In addition to fulltime MSN employees who guide our security and privacy strategy, we also maintain a network of dozens of privacy and security “champs” throughout MSN. These folks are trained to spot potential privacy and security issues while new services or businesses processes are in development, and are empowered to bring those potential issues to the attention of their teammates and the MSN management team.
PressPass: What are some ways that MSN has improved the online experience for customers?
Arbogast: Anyone who has ever wasted 10 minutes a day deleting spam from their e-mail inbox can attest to the value of SmartScreen Technology and the other spam-reducing, countermeasure technologies we’ve added to MSN Hotmail. Despite the increasing amounts of spam being sent around the world today, this work prevents nearly 3 billion pieces of spam a day from reaching our customers’ inboxes. We’ve also deployed SmartScreen for Microsoft Office Outlook and Microsoft Exchange to ensure Microsoft customers have access to the benefits of this innovative technology throughout our e-mail platforms.
PressPass: You mention SmartScreen. Fighting spam has been a high profile effort for Microsoft. What role does MSN play in this effort?
Arbogast: MSN plays a vital role, and has for many years been a major player in the company’s effort to fight spam and the privacy and security risks that come with unwanted e-mail. In addition to our SmartScreen technology we recently added no-charge antivirus scanning and cleaning to MSN Hotmail, helping protect our 187 million customers around the world. Stopping spam is critical, but it’s equally important to help protect customers when unwanted e-mails do get through. That is why we took this very big step to include these additional services for our customers. MSN is the only Web e-mail provider to offer both scanning and cleaning to free users worldwide.
As I noted earlier, Microsoft also continues to invest in the Sender ID Framework, a technology that helps prevent domain spoofing, a common spammer practice of altering an e-mail’s “From” address, making it appear to come from a legitimate sender. By helping prevent domain spoofing, the framework helps prevent the types of e-mails that are often used in “phishing” scams. These scams attempt to trick people into sharing financial and other private information. The Sender ID Framework verifies the identity of the sender and their Internet domain, based on the IP address of the sender’s server. Microsoft worked with AOL, SendMail and many others in the industry to further refine this framework to ensure it provides users choice and flexibility. We will begin to implement Sender ID in the Hotmail infrastructure this week.
PressPass: What about on other services? Are you doing anything to fight spam that occurs on instant messenger services, sometimes called “spim”?
Arbogast: To help prevent spim, we’ve designed MSN Messenger so it’s set up by default to only accept IMs from people on your contact list — and you need to approve anyone who wants to be on that list. While spim continues to be an industry issue and one we’re watching closely, this design has helped us protect MSN customers from “spim” they might receive on other instant messaging services.
PressPass: Are there other examples of helping protect customers that you’re proud of?
Arbogast: Absolutely. One thing I’m particularly proud of is the enhanced parental controls within MSN Premium, designed to help moms and dads protect their children. MSN Premium subscribers can create customized levels of protection for each of their children. They can block or approve specific Web sites or types of sites, as well as whom children can communicate with via Hotmail or Messenger. If kids want permission to access blocked sites or communicate with people who aren’t pre-approved, they can request changes to their status via e-mail, a feature that is especially handy for working parents.
Parents can receive weekly summaries that report how much time each of their children spent online and what they did and where they went online — including the e-mail and IM addresses for each person with whom they communicated. Mom and dad can also feel assured that when their kids navigate away from MSN or Microsoft online tools, the controls they choose for their children remain in place even if they use a different Web browser.
That said, while we’re proud of our parental controls we ultimately see them as a tool to help families have conversations about the Internet. Technology tools aren’t the complete solution — parents and children also need to understand what they can do to help protect themselves.
PressPass: You’ve shared examples of features or technology fixes that have enhanced the user experience. Are there cases where this hasn’t been possible?
Arbogast: At times, we’ve had to limit use of a feature. Sometimes there just isn’t a technology fix, and we need to make hard decisions about whether to discontinue features or alter the user experience in order to protect customers. A good example is the worldwide changes we made recently to the WebDAV protocol to help reduce spam for users worldwide.
The online protocol called Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning or WebDAV was until recently available to all our MSN or MSN Hotmail customers. MSN had been using this protocol to allow people to conveniently access their MSN Mail or Hotmail messages from within Outlook or Outlook Express. However, WebDAV has also become a route for spammers to exploit to send out their unwanted messages, using e-mail accounts they have created.
As more spammers took advantage of WebDAV, we took decisive action to help protect other Hotmail customers as well as the overall global e-mail community from additional unwanted mail. In September, we stopped providing new, free Hotmail account customers access to WebDAV functionality. Customers who had already enabled the functionality will continue to have access to it until early next year. At that time, the protocol will become available only as part of our subscription e-mail services for as little as US$19.95 a year with MSN Hotmail Plus. By making this technology part of our subscription services, we can verify the creator’s identity via credit-card information and more closely manage the use of the protocol.
PressPass: What’s on the horizon for MSN when it comes to protection?
Arbogast: This is an exciting time for MSN. We’re continuing to make major investments in our core communication services, like MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger, and information services like MSN Search and MSN Music. We are planning some exciting upgrades and new features in the next six months that will increase integration across our services and provide our customers additional protection. We remain committed to creating a protected online environment for our customers while we continue to innovate and deliver best-of-breed services and experiences for customers. As we introduce or update services, we’ll ensure that they meet industry, Microsoft and MSN standards. We take our responsibility as an industry leader and provider of online services to hundreds of millions of people very seriously and we are very excited about what the future holds.