Poortinga, who described his experience in a note posted on an Internet discussion group, added that he got an unsolicited e-mail from Microsoft in 1999 and tried to unsubscribe at the time.
As details of his experience and a copy of Ballmer's note were forwarded to other technology mailing lists, some participants speculated that Microsoft was sending its messages to lists containing names other than those in its customer database.
Chief executive Steven A. Ballmer's mass e-mail promoting Microsoft products has caused a stir among spam opponents.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack -- AP)
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Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall said the company "never, ever" uses outside lists for its mailings, although he said he did not know how Poortinga ended up in Microsoft's customer database.
He said that database includes millions of names collected from a variety of sources, including registrations for products or Microsoft-sponsored conferences, names provided to Microsoft representatives at trade shows or requests to receive company newsletters.
He added that Poortinga might not have followed the proper procedure to unsubscribe in 1999, but conceded that the request might have fallen though the cracks.
Sending an unsolicited e-mail once is permitted under the terms of the Can-Spam Act.
That was a sore point with many anti-spam activists, who argued that people should not receive any commercial e-mail unless they specifically request it.
Instead, Congress required bulk mailers to provide for an easy way for people to remove themselves from future mailings. Failure to honor those requests is punishable by fines.
Ballmer's e-mail advised readers that if they wish to receive future letters, they can sign up for them. That way, Sundwall said, if a recipient takes no action he would not get any additional mailings.
The e-mail also included a link to a sign-in page for a Microsoft Passport, which is the system used by the company to verify the identities of its customers.