Microsoft has said that reviewing the Hotmail account of a French blogger thought to be in possession of leaked Windows 8 documentation was legal and done to protect its valuable IP.
"As part of the investigation, we took the step of a limited review of this third party's Microsoft operated accounts," a Microsoft spokeswoman said. "While Microsoft's terms of service make clear our permission for this type of review, this happens only in the most exceptional circumstances."
At issue is the case of Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee who was arrested this week for leaking Windows 8 documentation to a French blogger prior to the new operating system's release. That in itself is an interesting story, but even more eye-opening was how the Redmond-based firm identified Kibkalo as the culprit.
The unnamed blogger in question emailed a source using a Hotmail address in an effort to get some context on the documents provided by Kibkalo. That source contacted then-Windows chief Steven Sinofsky. He notified Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Investigations (TWCI) division, which got permission for "content pulls of the blogger's Hotmail account." There, Redmond found emails from Kibkalo, including links to the documents in question.
This prompted questions about whether Microsoft should have secured a court order before it examined the blogger's Hotmail account (not to mention whether that blogger should've used something other than Microsoft's own email service to chat about stolen documents).
According to Microsoft's online services privacy statement, the company "may access or disclose information about you, including the content of your communications" in order to "protect the rights or property of Microsoft or our customers, including the enforcement of our agreements or policies governing your use of the Service," among other reasons.
Though a court order was not secured for the Hotmail search, a Microsoft spokeswoman said it did secure one to search the blogger's home. "The investigation repeatedly identified clear evidence that the third party involved intended to sell Microsoft IP and had done so in the past," the spokeswoman said.
"We apply a rigorous process before reviewing such content. In this case, there was a thorough review by a legal team separate from the investigating team and strong evidence of a criminal act that met a standard comparable to that required to obtain a legal order to search other sites," she continued.