“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,” general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post. “Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required.”
The move follows an uproar that occurred after it came to light that Microsoft had searched a blogger’s Web mail account to discover the identity of an employee that was leaking prerelease software. Microsoft had already made a smaller change to its practices before announcing Friday it would stop reading customer email entirely in such cases.
For now, it is a matter of policy, but Smith said “in the coming months we will incorporate this change in our customer terms of service, so that it’s clear to consumers and binding on Microsoft.”
Microsoft’s prior terms of service, as well as those of rivals such as Google and Yahoo, allow the service providers to inspect e-mail if they believe their own intellectual property rights are being violated.
“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,” Smith said. “Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures.”
Microsoft also said it will work with privacy groups to create a broader dialogue on issues such as these.
The full blog post is here.