recommended reading

Microsoft Promises to Stop Reading Your Emails

Steven Senne/AP

Microsoft is in full damage-control mode after it sparked a public backlash by snooping on the emails of a blogger.

The company said Friday that it will no longer go through the emails of users who are suspected of stealing physical or intellectual property from Microsoft. Instead, the company will refer the cases to law enforcement.

Microsoft is making the change to its company policy immediately and plans to update its customer terms of service.

Last week, Microsoft revealed in court filings that its investigators had accessed the private Hotmail account of an unnamed French blogger who allegedly received stolen Windows code from a Microsoft employee. The blogger was not accused of any wrongdoing, but the FBI used the evidence Microsoft pulled from the blogger's email account to bring charges against the employee who allegedly leaked the information.

Privacy activists were outraged that Microsoft had not gone through any formal legal process before reading a user's emails. The controversy was especially damaging because Microsoft has tried to attract new users by boasting about its privacy protections. The company has aired ads claiming Google "scroogles" its users by invading their privacy.

"It's always uncomfortable to listen to criticism," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, wrote in a blog post. "But if one can step back a bit, it's often thought-provoking and even helpful. That was definitely the case for us over the past week."

He insisted that the company was "clearly" within its legal rights to search the user's email account, but he said the company has realized it should rely on formal legal procedures even when users are suspected of stealing from Microsoft.

Justin Brookman, the director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, called the change in policy a "really good step." But he noted the announcement is limited to the narrow circumstances when Microsoft suspects a user of trafficking in Microsoft property.

Most companies write privacy policies that give them sweeping authority to access user data, Brookman explained.

"People don't read those things very closely so there isn't a lot of cost in saying, 'We reserve the right to go in whenever we want,' " he said. "Maybe this will get people in general to be a little more cautious."

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.