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Microsoft changes its policy on email privacy: “we’re listening”

A little more than a week after a court document proved that Microsoft invoked its Terms of Use policy to sift through a French blogger’s Hotmail account in search of leaked company secrets, the company announced Friday that it will amend its current policies.

“Over the past week, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect further on this issue, and as a result of conversations we’ve had internally and with advocacy groups and other experts, we’ve decided to take an additional step and make an important change to our privacy practices,” said Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs at Microsoft.

The crux of the change is that if Microsoft suspects that its private property was leaked through an email account it hosts and administers, the company will not conduct the search itself. Instead, it will turn the information over to law enforcement, which will oversee the process. Basically, accounts will still be searched from time to time if illegal activity is expected — Microsoft just won’t be responsible for the investigation.

Additionally, Smith promised that the company would “incorporate this change in our customer terms of service, so that it’s clear to consumers and binding on Microsoft.”

There’s no way that Microsoft will ever revoke its legal right to search through someone’s “private” email account hosted on its servers, especially when intellectual property is involved. And, despite its commitment to explore the privacy needs of its consumers and identify “best practices” in these situations, Microsoft (and other tech companies) will go to great lengths to recover information that has been leaked.

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