Microsoft changes privacy policy in wake of Hotmail snooping

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Microsoft announced changes to its privacy policy on Friday under which it will no longer snoop on customers’ private communications on suspicions of violating intellectual property rights.

This move comes a week after Microsoft faced an uproar over its investigation methods used in the suspected leak of software code by a former software architect, Alex Kibkalo to an unnamed French blogger. Microsoft had searched the blogger’s emails to discover the identity of the employee.

“Effective immediately, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves,” general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post. “Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required.”

The revelation caused outrage, and the company acted to tighten up its privacy. Earlier last week, Microsoft made some changes to its policy, including a plan to consult a lawyer who was a former judge before inspecting private emails.

Civil rights advocates have reacted positively to the recent change. Christopher Soghoian, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) principal technologist tweeted, “Wow. An impressive change in policy re: email searches from Microsoft after criticism last week. Will Google follow?”

He added in a second tweet, “Microsoft’s legal team (and their privacy team who were involved in discussions) deserve serious praise for this change in policy. Bravo.”

Smith also added that this change in the customer terms of service will be incorporated in the coming months, to make it clear to consumers. He insisted that Microsoft was “clearly” within its legal rights to search the user’s email account.

Microsoft’s prior terms of service allow inspecting e-mails of users in cases of suspicions of the company’s intellectual property rights being violated.