Microsoft Sparks Privacy Outcry After Reading User's Hotmail

Microsoft admitted it searched the email account of a Hotmail user to find a leaker, raising fears of privacy violations.

Microsoft Sparks Privacy Outcry After Reading User's Hotmail

Tech giant Microsoft was under fire this week after a court filing revealed the Seattle company had probed a user's email account in order to track down a company mole.

The story begins with Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee who was arrested Wednesday after allegedly leaking prerelease Windows RT updates and source code to a French blogger in 2012. Ars Technica notes authorities arrested Kibkalo based on the emails he sent to the blogger.

And in a complaint filed in court against Kibkalo, Microsoft admits it found the accused leaker thanks to "content pulls from the blogger's Hotmail account" – this was back before Hotmail transitioned into What's more, the search was conducted internally, without a court order or a warrant. (Via U.S. District Courts)

Now, according to the company's Terms of Service, Microsoft is within its rights to snoop into user accounts in order to protect its intellectual property. 

But the company's email raid definitely ruffled a few feathers on the Internet. A Wired writer says Microsoft's ability to read user emails "seem[s] like a massive abuse of power" no matter what justification they give.

​While a Windows IT Pro writer notes Microsoft's Hotmail incursion pokes holes in the idea that data stored with the company can never be considered private. "When companies choose to store data in the Cloud, they are unwittingly forfeiting ownership. ... It's unfathomable and unacceptable."

And more than one tech writer has noted this latest revelation makes Microsoft's Scroogled ad campaign, which blasts Google's Gmail for violating its user's privacy, ring a little hollow.

In a blog post, Microsoft's legal vice president defended the legitimacy of the company's Hotmail snooping but also promised some company policy reforms on the issue. Those reforms include additional oversight on these searches and more transparency.

But The Verge says this case might have already eroded consumer's trust in digital privacy — other email providers like Google, Yahoo, and Apple all have similar snooping abilities built into their terms of service.

"Peeking into your clients' inbox is bad form, but it's perfectly legal. ... Without stronger privacy laws, all companies have to worry about is bad PR."

One final note — Microsoft's new reforms won't apply to the accounts of Microsoft employees, so they may want to consider switching email providers if they're planning to leak company secrets any time soon.