In March 2014, media revealed that Microsoft had searched a blogger’s Hotmail account without the blogger’s consent. Yesterday, Microsoft promised never to do it again.
A statement in the email sent to Microsoft users reads, “As part of our ongoing commitment to respecting your privacy, we won’t use your documents, photos or other personal files or what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to you.”
General Counsel Brad Smith acknowledged that Microsoft users do in fact have privacy rights, and assured users that unless Microsoft has a court order, the company will refrain from snooping.
“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,” Smith said in a statement on the Microsoft blog in March. “Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required.”
According to the email, the new terms will be in effect July 25.
“For years, Microsoft has prided itself on the fact that it doesn’t use your content to target ads – which is part of the reason the incident…was so surprising,” Business Insider reported.
In comparison to Google, which reads your Gmail then uses the information to bombard you with ads, Microsoft has always appeared to be a more private option for email. Now Microsoft is working hard to maintain its persona of a privacy-committed company, but in light of recent events – like British spies policing Facebook and the NSA listening in on our phone calls – Microsoft will have to work harder than ever to convince users that their content is completely private and unmonitored.
What is particularly troubling is Smith’s statement near the end of his March post: “While our own search was clearly within our legal rights, it seems apparent that we should apply a similar principle and rely on formal legal processes for our own investigations involving people who we suspect are stealing from us. Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures.”
Microsoft very subtly asserts its innocence in the blogger incident, suggesting that we should probably add Microsoft to our “Untrustworthy Organizations That Steal Private Information” list, along with NSA and Google.