Microsoft reads the e-mails of its Hotmail users

Microsoft operates its own e-mail service under the names Hotmail, Live, and outlook.com. It was recently revealed that Microsoft betrayed the privacy of its customers by reading their personal e-mails. This was not simply an automated process used to filter e-mails. In this case, the administrators accessed customer e-mail accounts directly.

Here’s a little background information: After a blogger published confidential internal details about Windows 8, Microsoft attempted to hunt down the traitor in its own ranks. The employees at Microsoft were clearly unable to resist the temptation to read the blogger’s private e-mails in his Hotmail account and by doing this, they ended up uncovering the e-mail address of the employee who leaked the information in the first place (this employee has since been fired).

Microsoft claims that they were simply enacting the same measures that would be used in a case of eavesdropping with a court order in accessing the blogger’s e-mail account. However, in this case, there is the subtle but important difference that there was no court order and Microsoft committed a major breach of trust and violated their customer’s right to privacy. Naturally, this is completely illegal.

At mailbox.org, we made a crucial point in our first doodle video: “We at mailbox.org do not even want to be able to read your e-mails.” Most customers are not aware that the administrators of their e-mail provider have access to their mailboxes and could theoretically read all of their personal messages. As long as your e-mails are right there, written in plain language, even we could do that. Users are faced with two options. Either they can choose to trust their e-mail provider to comply with the corresponding laws and respect the privacy of their customers, or they can play it safe and use only encrypted e-mails. Just on principle we recommend choosing encrypted communication 😉 That way private remains private.

Update: Heise reports that Apple, Google, and Yahoo are now also revising their Terms and Conditions of Use to revoke their right to read user e-mails.