Microsoft has made an important change to its internal policies that would no longer allow the company to look into email accounts of users who are suspected to violating intellectual property.Last week, it has emerged that Redmond accessed a Hotmail account belonging to a user who was believed to be leaking Windows copies to the web, thus managing to find valuable information about this identity and to eventually get him arrested.
Of course, the software giant has been aggressively criticized for looking into email accounts without authorization, with several privacy advocates across the world calling for the company to adjust its guidelines to provide enhanced protection to users.
In a blog post published today, Brad Smith, general counsel & executive vice president, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft, says that Redmond has listened to all these complaints, so it decided to change its policy in order to prevent further similar cases from taking place.
“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. Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required,” Smith said.
That’s clearly a big win for users, but it doesn’t make any major difference at all. Microsoft previously said that looking into that user’s Hotmail account was perfectly legal because the only thing they did was to search its own servers, so a judge’s approval wasn’t necessary.
Under the new guidelines, if Microsoft believes that someone is stealing from it, the company would call the cops and only then look into the respective account. It’s basically the same thing as before, but the whole process now takes longer.
“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. Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures,” Smith noted.
Microsoft has often promoted Outlook.com as an email platform that really pays attention to user privacy (unlike Gmail, as the Scroogled campaign states), so this new change is clearly supposed to help the company regain lost trust after the scandal which emerged last week and stirred up another controversy surrounding Redmond’s very own way to work with your data.