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Microsoft tightens privacy policy amid storm of criticism

Redmond elects to refer suspicions to law enforcement following email access row

Microsoft tightens privacy policy amid storm of criticism
Microsoft representatives have regularly accused arch-rival Google of eschewing privacy in its Gmail service.

Microsoft on Friday announced it would in future refer all suspicions of illegal activity on its email platform to the proper authorities, following criticism directed at the company for accessing an employee's Hotmail account to search for proof he was leaking corporate secrets.

According to a report from Reuters, the statement reverses Microsoft's previously announced intention to consult an unnamed former federal judge in such matters and proceed to access an account only if that person advised there was sufficient evidence to do so.

"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," said Microsoft head lawyer Brad Smith on Friday, in a blog post on the company's website. "Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required."

The issue came to light during the prosecution of ex-Microsoft employee Alex Kibkalo in Seattle federal court for sharing code samples with a blogger. Publicly available court documents showed Microsoft had accessed the Kibkalo's email account prior to contacting authorities. Privacy groups promptly condemned the move.

Microsoft representatives have regularly accused arch-rival Google of using its Gmail service to trawl for actionable information, by accessing the body text of messages, and selling targeted ads to clients based on the information.

The Redmond-based software firm has also been vocal regarding the need for greater transparency in the process by which the US National Security Agency requests private information from Web service providers, following the disclosures of former contractor Edward Snowden.

"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," said Smith in the blog. "Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures."

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