In the latest turn of events, the tech giant Microsoft (MSFT) is under the public and media scrutiny for invading the privacy of an employee by looking into his personal mails and chats. In 2012 the company came to know that Alex Kibkalo, one of its ex-employees, had leaked Microsoft software through an anonymous blogger that could give power to hackers and pose as a potential threat to all Microsoft users across the globe. As a measure to control that, the tech giant pulled private information from the blogger’s Hotmail and Windows Live accounts and all this rolled down to the recent arrest of Alex.
Actions and their reactions
In all this, while Microsoft saved the world, it got entangled in a nasty controversy regarding its legal and ethical rights. From the company’s standpoint, it was just trying to protect itself from internal and external threats and under such desperate circumstances it was forced to undertake such desperate measures.
While many consider this action to be breach of trust, whatever Microsoft did was very well within its legal rights. The company says that it’s allowed to take such drastic steps as and when it’s required to and all this is supported by the agreements mentioned in its terms of service – under most exceptional circumstances the company can force its way into the user’s account and read and disclose private information, if the situation calls for the same.
In this particular case, the company’s legal team could gather sufficient evidence that the blogger was attempting to sell the illegally obtained Microsoft software. On the basis of those, the company made its move without seeking a warrant, though it’s could have got one if it wanted it. However, Microsoft’s point is, it didn’t require a warrant since all the information was stored in its own servers on its own premises.
Why so much drama?
Microsoft’s actions have stirred some questions regarding how protected is the data that the millions of users have trusted the company with. Emails have become crucial to our existence and are loaded with thousands or even millions of personal confidential information. Automatically huge power lies in the hands of the company. But, with great power comes great responsibility. The question is -is Microsoft being responsible enough? And, is Microsoft considering the user’s personal confidential information to be its own property?
However, these are not the only reasons for so much of hue and cry. The matter is much broader and not just about a single company – Microsoft. All the third-party email service providers have huge volumes of data stored in their servers which, its seems now, they can legally track in to and extract valuable information and there’s no stopping them since the legalities regarding hosting providers are such.
The hosting business is primarily based on trust – trust that the general users have on the service provider regarding keeping their private data confidential and out of reach of others, But Microsoft’s move has damaged the trust factor. Not only Microsoft, even Yahoo (YHOO), Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) have such powers since the user’s emails are stored on their servers and are directed through their protocols and encrypted by them only.
Damage control by Microsoft
With so many questions ramping up, Microsoft has realized the sensitiveness of the matter and has announced to outline refreshed internal policies that would provide better mental satisfaction to its users in regard to the confidentiality of their data. Going forward, the company will seek the permission from an outside lawyer who will be former federal judge before it marches into someone’s private space. The company also would release transparency reports about the number of such searches conducted by them and number of user accounts that have been affected. Microsoft’s deputy general counsel John Frank also clearly mentioned that the company will surely take a much more thorough path before it ever looks into a non-employee’s Hotmail account.
All the hosting service providers need to keep in mind that trust once lost is very difficult to earn back. Even a company as huge as Microsoft won’t be able to stand the blows of lost trust. After all, without trust, why would anyone choose Microsoft Hotmail over Gmail or Yahoo Mail? However, I believe the company has understood the crucial nature of the incident and has taken adequate measures to avoid future controversies.
The current actions on Microsoft’s part were just to protect it and the company had no intentions to barge into anyone else’s privacy. Had the accused been a non-employee, surely the company would have gone for necessary approvals. This time I am certainly going to give Microsoft a pass, however, the company needs to be more careful when dealing with situations like the current one.