Microsoft changes policy in wake of Hotmail snooping

Microsoft's general counsel announces changes to its Web mail terms of service, promising that it won't read its users' email even when they're suspected of trafficking in stolen Microsoft property.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
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The Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. Microsoft

Microsoft's mea culpa for its Hotmail snooping is more than just words, with the company making a serious change in policy to accompany its apology.

General counsel Brad Smith announced on Friday that Microsoft will change both company policy and customer terms of service.

"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 in a blog post.

The changes come following the news that Microsoft had read a Hotmail user's emails to track down a Microsoft employee now accused of corporate espionage. Hotmail has since been re-branded as Outlook.com. Last week, the company announced a policy change following the blowback, but clearly decided that it wasn't enough to assuage critics.

While the policy change is effective immediately, the change to the customer terms of service is expected "in the coming months," Smith said.

He explained that Microsoft opted to change its policy "as a result of conversations we've had internally and with advocacy groups and other experts."

It also gives Microsoft a leg up over its competition at Google and Yahoo, which both have similarly broad terms of services for their Web mail products Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

Google declined to comment. Yahoo did not respond to a request for comment.

Update, 4:33 p.m. PT: Adds info on Google declining to comment.