Microsoft admits to reading user emails

Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple reserve right to read user emails if 'deemed necessary'

Tags: Apple IncorporatedGoogle IncorporatedMicrosoft CorporationSpyingYahoo! Incorporated
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Microsoft admits to reading user emails Microsoft say it can access information in accounts that are stored on its "Communication Services". (Peteri/Shutterstock.com)
By  Helen Gaskell Published  March 23, 2014

Microsoft is changing its policy after admitting to reading its users' emails while recently trying to track down an internal leak.

Currently in a "privacy storm", Microsoft said it took "extraordinary actions in this case".  John Frank, deputy general counsel for Microsoft, said, the search was legal because it fell within Microsoft's terms of service, which state that the company can access information in accounts that are stored on its "Communication Services", which includes email, chat areas, forums, and other communication facilities.

The terms of service add: "Microsoft reserves the right to review materials posted to the Communication Services and to remove any materials in its sole discretion."

According to the Guardian, the new rules prevent the company from snooping on customers' communications without first convincing two legal teams, independent of the internal investigation, that they have evidence sufficient to obtain a court order, were one applicable.

This recent incident has brought to light that other major email providers reserve exactly the same rights. Yahoo requires users to "acknowledge, consent and agree that Yahoo may access... your account information and content... in a good faith [if there is a] belief that such access... is reasonably necessary to... protect the rights... of Yahoo."

Google's terms require the user to "acknowledge and agree that Google may access... your account information and any content associated with that account... in a good-faith belief that such access... is reasonably necessary to... protect against imminent harm to the... property... of Google".

Apple "may, without liability to you, access... your account information and content... if we have a good-faith belief that such access... is reasonably necessary to... protect the... property... of Apple".

Charlie Howe, director, EMEA at Skyhigh Networks said: "The problem is, this is a technically legal activity that we all agree to when we sign up to certain cloud services - whether knowingly or not. For instance, I would guess that most people don't actually read the full terms and conditions before using a new application, and they would probably be surprised by what they are actually agreeing to when they click the ‘accept' button on certain cloud services."

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