Hotmail has stolen a rare lead on Googles Gmail with a new security feature that lets webmail users create temporary email addresses which can later be discarded.
The new aliases can be used to create up to five secondary email identities that link back to a users main email account as a way of interacting with online services on a temporary basis. Once the need for this relationship has ended, users can turn off or delete the alias to avoid receiving marketing or spam.
To ease management of the five possible aliases, Hotmail can route mail from each into different folders or mark them using different symbols for clear identification.
Weve all been in a situation when we have to sign up for or buy something, like a car or a holiday, and provide our email address. Most likely, its something or somewhere were not likely to visit again anytime soon, said Hotmail product manager, Bryan Saftler.
Saftler pointed out that email addresses are now used for more than simple messaging with select acquaintances, and now form the frontline of many peoples digital identity. Managing this through one identify can be difficult, which encourages some to create multiple email accounts.
Thats where services such as Hotmail win out. The company will, presumably, no longer have to manage large numbers of empty email accounts for people who only created them for a short-term reason. That means less management.
The limitation is the five alias limit in any year, or 15 in total. No doubt this is to stop a minority of users or spammers going mad with the number of aliases that hang off one primary account.
As Microsoft worked out long ago, the bigger picture is identity itself.
The Internet is crying out for users to interact with a large number of services using broker services, which is where Windows Live ID and Google identities might in future come in. Users wouldnt log in or exchange information with these services but the service extracts the user data from the broker on a temporary basis that deletes traces when the transaction is finished.
This can already be done with Microsofts Passport Network or Windows Live ID but depends on that filtering down to larger numbers of sites, which it has yet to do. De facto identity companies such as Facebook now look more likely to steal this crown but Hotmail aliases might yet be a way for Microsoft to claw back some lost ground.