Microsoft Corrects Stance on Email Scanning

Pulkit Chandna

Revises its email scanning policy again following ‘uncomfortable’ criticism

Microsoft came under severe criticism after it emerged last week that in 2012 the company had peeked inside the Hotmail account of an employee suspected of leaking Windows 8 trade secrets . Within 24 hours of the revelations, the company thought it behooved it to “provide additional context and describe how we are strengthening our policies.” But the
"strengthened" policy did not go down too well with the critics either.

After being heavily criticized for the revised policy that simply required the company to rely on the judgment of “a legal team separate from the internal investigating team” to determine whether reading a customer’s email was justified or not, Microsoft has backtracked on the issue . According to a blog post it published on Friday, the company spent the week following the first policy revision “reflecting further on the issue.”

Here’s the harvest of all that reflection and the talks it held with advocacy groups and other experts: “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. Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required. In addition to changing company policy, in the coming months we will incorporate this change in our customer terms of service, so that it’s clear to consumers and binding on Microsoft.”

“We’ve entered a ‘post-Snowden era’ in which people rightly focus on the ways others use their personal information. As a company we’ve participated actively in the public discussions about the proper balance between the privacy rights of citizens and the powers of government. We’ve advocated that governments should rely on formal legal processes and the rule of law for surveillance activities,” the company said, adding that although it was well within its legal rights to do what it did, it has realized “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.”

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