Microsoft Justifies Reading Your Email in ‘Exceptional Circumstances’


Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has admitted to reading the Hotmail email inbox of a blogger who leaked details of its newest operating system, Windows 8, before it was released. The company launched an investigation in which it read the blogger’s emails in an effort to identify the employee responsible for releasing the details, BBC News reported Friday.

Ex-Microsoft employee Alex Kibkalo, a software architect, was arrested and charged with leaking early copies of Windows 7 and 8 to an anonymous French technology blogger. Kibkalo apparently leaked the copies after a poor performance review at Microsoft, tech news outlet The Verge reported on Wednesday. Investigations have been ongoing for over a year now.

Kibkalo is also accused of stealing Microsoft’s Activation Server Software Development Kit, which is used to protect against piracy. Kibkalo leaked the software kit to the same, unnamed French blogger, which then allowed users to bypass the activation process necessary to use copies of Microsoft Office as well as the Windows operating system.

As part of its investigation, Microsoft reportedly accessed the blogger’s Hotmail email account in order to track down Kibkalo and stop further leaks of the sensitive software. The company admitted to accessing the user’s emails in federal court documents, CNN reports.

John Frank, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel for Microsoft, told CNN the company took “extraordinary actions in this case.” The search was “technically legal,” he said, though he added that Microsoft would have to consult with outside counsel in the future, according to the news network.

“As part of the investigation, we took the step of a limited review of this third party’s Microsoft operated accounts. While Microsoft’s terms of service make clear our permission for this type of review, this happens only in the most exceptional circumstances. We apply a rigorous process before reviewing such content,” a statement issued by Microsoft said.

Microsoft has defended its actions by claiming that it’s allowed to make such decisions unilaterally because of the terms of service that all users must agree to in order to open any Microsoft communications accounts, such as Outlook, Hotmail, or Windows Live. When you check that box at the end of the lengthy terms of service statement, Microsoft says, you agree “to this type of review … in the most exceptional circumstances.”

CNN adds that normally Microsoft would have to seek a warrant to conduct such an investigation, but because the emails were stored on Microsoft’s servers, its own property, it didn’t need one, the company says.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: