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Last week, Microsoft filed a case against an employee for stealing and sharing information with a French blogger. They uncovered details needed for the case by searching the blogger’s email. It caused a stir among privacy-conscious users. Now, Apple, Gmail, and Yahoo are saying that they also have the right to search user emails and read their contents.
Microsoft Reads Emails
Microsoft was contacted by someone asking questions about some unreleased code. The company investigated and found the Hotmail account of a certain French blogger. Microsoft took this to their Office of Legal Compliance, which allowed an email search. The company opened and read the blogger’s emails and found communications from Alex Kibkalo. Kibkalo was a Microsoft employee in Lebanon. The emails revealed that Kibkalo had been sharing the unreleased bits of code with the blogger.
Kibkalo was charged with stealing and sharing Microsoft trade secrets. Other documents submitted to the court show that he leaked the Windows 8 code because he was unhappy about a bad review of his performance. Kibkalo came clean about the leaks when Microsoft questioned him. The blogger also acknowledged that he/she knew that the information from Kibkalo was Microsoft property, and not intended for release. The blogger also apparently sold activation keys for Windows Server on eBay.
Privacy advocates zeroed in on the fact that Microsoft reads emails. They opened and read the blogger’s Hotmail messages. That Microsoft reads emails means that all other Hotmail and Outlook users are potential victims. They are justified in worrying about the company digging through a private email account. An email account could contain several types of personal information aside from the email contents themselves. And this case shows that Microsoft reads emails without consulting or even informing the authorities. But the company’s privacy statement allows this. Microsoft reads emails within their legal rights in cases where they can justify that it preserves Microsoft property or Microsoft customers. The Microsoft Office of Legal Compliance found reason to approve the email search. And the company added that even with this right, they only do so when it is necessary, and after a meticulous review of the case.
Apple, Gmail and Yahoo Can Read User Emails, Too
The Microsoft email digging spurred an investigation of the privacy policies of top email providers. It revealed that Apple, Gmail and Yahoo can open and read user emails, too. The privacy policies contain wide-ranging rights in favor of the companies. They basically all state that the companies can read user emails if they determine that there is a need to secure their property.
Microsoft has amended their terms of service since the Windows 8 code leak. It now says that all requests to access user emails must go through both an internal and en external legal review. Information about these requests must also be made more transparent. The other providers do not share their detailed processes and reasons for accessing user emails. Apple and Google made no response to requests for comment on reading user emails without a court order. Yahoo responded, but without comment.