Hot on the heels of Google being sued for Gmail message scanning, Microsoft has also found itself in hot water after admitting that it accessed and read the email inbox of a blogger’s Hotmail account. The tech giant has claimed it did so while pursuing a software leak investigation.
Last week, Microsoft told the media that it had accessed the anonymous blogger’s Hotmail account to help identify an employee it believed was leaking information. Microsoft owns the Hotmail service, which is free for all users and now sits under the banner ‘Outlook.com’.
The search has been described as technically legal, although John Frank, Microsoft’s general counsel, has pointed out that they took ‘extraordinary actions in this case’, adding they would consult outside counsel if such access was ever required again in the future.
The reason Microsoft accessed the Hotmail account is all linked to a legal case against an ex-Microsoft employee, Alex Kibalko, who resided in the company’s Lebanon office and is a Russian native. Microsoft discovered that, in 2012, Kibalko possessed some stolen lines of code from the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 operating system. Kibalko then posted screenshots of the code on his blog.
The search for the source of the leak is what has led Microsoft to access the email account of the blogger in question, in order to find the name of the employee (Kibalko had remained anonymous up until that point).
The search is believed to be legal, because it falls under Microsoft’s terms of service, which confirm they can access information contained within Hotmail, chat areas, forums and other communication facilities which make up their ‘Communication Services’.
This revelation, along with Google’s ongoing lawsuit, is likely to renew the industry-wide focus on data privacy.