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Microsoft Email Tracking: The Sequel
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Dateline: 05/12/99

This week's hot email forward claims that Microsoft is testing a new "email tracking system" in an effort to stay competitive in the wake of the AOL/Netscape merger. According to the message, Microsoft will pay you $5 for every person you forward it to, an additional $3 for every person they forward it to, and so on.

"It really works," says the chain letter.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but... no, it doesn't work.

There's no such thing as email tracking — at least not of the sort described here (see last year's debunking of what was essentially the same hoax for some of the whys and wherefores) — nor are Bill Gates and Microsoft so desperate for publicity that they must resort to chain letters to promote themselves.

If you forwarded the message below, you've been had.


Subject: Sounds Pretty Simple... Need Money?

Hi gang: Let's see if this one really works!

Hi this is pretty cool!
Netscape and AOL have recently merged to form the largest internet company in the world. In an effort to remain at pace with this giant, Microsoft has introduced a new email tracking system as a way to keep Internet Explorer as the most popular browser on the market. This email is a beta test of the new software and Microsoft has generously offered to compensate those who participate in the testing process. For each person you send this email to, you will be given $5. For every person they give it to, you will be given an additional $3. For every person they send it to you will receive $1.

Microsoft will tally all the emails produced under your name over a two week period and then email you with more instructions. This beta test is only for Microsoft Windows users because the email tracking device that contacts Microsoft is embedded into the code of Windows 95 and 98.

I know you guys hate forwards. But I started this a month ago because I was very short on cash. A week ago I got an email from Microsoft asking me for my address. I gave it to them and yesterday I got a check in the mail for $800. It really works. I wanted you to get a piece of the action. You won't regret it.


This is only the most recent variant of an older email prank first sighted in November 1997. That particular chain letter was noteworthy for introducing the motif of "email tracking" which by now has gone through umpteen mutations. That message, too, promised monetary rewards for all who helped "test" the nonexistent software. The notion was debunked by Bill Gates himself in a 1998 essay.

Even so, the email tracking gimmick has returned again and again since that time, most famously in the Walt Disney Jr. chain letter of September 1998. The circulation of that hoax was so enormous it prompted a rare public denial from both Disney and Microsoft.

Bill Gates said it best: It's "fraudulent," it's "bogus," it's all a bunch of "hooey."  Don't fall for this recycled prank.


More information:

Statement from Microsoft
05/12/99 - "As you may have suspected, this is a hoax and did not originate from Microsoft..."

AOL and Microsoft Have Merged???
A later variant peddling the same old bunk

More Phony 'Freebie' Chain Letters
A plethora of examples from our email archive


Current Internet Hoaxes
The Urban Legends Top 25

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