12 votes

Is it ok for Microsoft to spy on you?

SEATTLE — Technology companies have spent months denying they know anything about broad government spying on people who use their Internet services.

But a legal case filed this week against a former Microsoft employee shows the power these companies themselves have to snoop on their customers whenever they want to.

Microsoft accused the former employee of stealing company trade secrets in the form of software code for the Windows operating system, and leaking the software to a blogger. In an investigation, the company figured out who revealed the information by reading the emails and instant messages of the blogger on his Microsoft-operated Hotmail and message accounts.

While Microsoft’s actions appear to have been legal and within the scope of its own policies, its reading of the private online accounts of a customer without a court order was highly unusual and raises questions about its protections for customer data, privacy lawyers say.

“What blogger will use that service now?” said Jennifer Granick, an attorney and director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

Ms. Granick said it appeared that Microsoft’s actions were within the boundaries of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows service providers to read and disclose customers’ communications if it is necessary to protect the rights or property of the service provider. Still, she called the move by Microsoft “stupid” and said it should raise concerns among bloggers and journalists about using Microsoft Internet services to communicate with their sources.

Continue reading:

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

it depends on what you agreed to,

when you bought or licensed their software

"It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go - maybe even longer. If a reasonably intelligent person learned to play Go, in a few months he could beat all existing computer programs." - Piet Hut

Damn, beat me to it.

Read the EULA! These are NOT, I repeat NOT, click through agreements to take lightly. When you agree you are usually agreeing to let them spy on you, sell your data, steal the product back if they don't like how you use it, lose online services you paid for, and a waiver to right to trial by jury; hello manditory binding arbitration where YOU WILL LOSE. Oh, I almost forgot, you also agree they can change the terms of the EULA anytime they wish and that you'll be bound to those changes.

If you agreed without reading it then you've willingly signed a contract that says you are OK with all of the crap in the agreement.

do you spy on us?

You certainly could keep track of lots of stuff like all our metadata! Where we log in from and when. What we click on, what we vote up and down..... which articles we read. You can even run a program that keeps track of where we hover our mouse. Then there are the passwords which most people duplicate elsewhere. Oh and you might be logging all our chats too.

I think it is really lousy for Microsoft to read through emails. But if people would read the agreement they make....there is something called personal responsibility. Have you read Yahoo's agreement lately? ouch.

Education is key and to give people other options. The problem as I see it is that people don't care. Well, until they are bit by the hand who feeds them.

The other problem is that there are not many other options. I used to use Skpye a lot until Microsoft bought them. The biggies buy up everything. And those that can't be bought are destroyed. Wow, this is getting grim. I had better stop.

On the bright side it is easy to get your own domain and email. But it does cost a nominal amount. if you really want to be private you can run your own email server but that takes a little technical know-how.

Mr. Eugenics has made way too much money

I would never search the web with windows, I don't like being tracked. I just bought a new computer and one of the agreements I had to check off, is that it is okay for the manufacturer and Microsoft to track me.

I believe once I buy a product it is completely mine no strings attached other than the warranty.

I couldn't get my Ubuntu operating system installed as a dual boot with Windows, because of the security programming built in. So they forced me to choose, be tracked and spied on, or be free.

Windows 8.1 is not on this 2 week old computer now, I had Ubuntu erase Windows completely.

I'll probably reinstall Windows after I figure out how to get it working in a dual boot system.

I very seldom use windows anyway, I think it's poorly programmed from the beginning.

Surviving the killing fields of Minnesota

Todays brainwashing: GMO's are safe

I thought like that.

I built a new desktop computer from components, installed Ubuntu, thinking I would later need to buy Windows 7. Nearly a year later, I have found the only restriction to my using Ubuntu is I can't stream NetFlix. I am very satisfied in the speed, lack of malware, lightning fast updates and backups that come with using Ubuntu. I have nothing from Microsoft, Apple, Intuit or Google on this computer.

I have also procrastinated on purchasing a microphone, webcam and wifi card and will probably continue doing so.

I do keep an old laptop (Windows 7) connected to a large flat screen just for NetFlix.

Need Help?

UEFI Strikes again... Here is what Ubuntu has to say about this.
I prefer to run Windows inside a Virtual Machine.

Garan's picture

Security Risks with Microsoft Products Goes Well Beyond Email

Firstly, everyone should know that any service providing email accounts are able to view those emails. You just need to find a company you can trust, or at least has simple motivations that do not give reason for them to look at your emails. Otherwise, yes, sending unsecure communications through any company poses a risk.

That aside, I just want to share a few things about my experiences with Microsoft Windows.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to have a Microsoft Windows system extensively protected by anti-virus software, which consumes many resources and slows down everything, through dynamicly scanning your files, programs, networked data, and emails before you use them. I've seen as much as 20 to 30% of the computer's computing ability soaked up by these anti-virus systems, and virus still occasionally make their way through. ..some very nasty viruses, such as the ones that interfere with your work or grant access to your (my) computer.

I even experienced someone elses microphone playing through my speakers. Suddenly I was hearing people talking casually through my PC for a few seconds.

I've given up on Microsoft Windows and the anti virus software (tried several of them). I've been using Linux for about 2 years, and use almost all of my computing power for what I choose, and no longer have much concern or any work interruption over viruses. ..I also never do anything risky like opening unsolicited attachments from just anyone, and hesitating to open attachments from friends (because they could have a virus sending the email or the email could have been spoofed).

My life is easier and more secure, and yes, I've become yet another person who says "just us Linux".

I still use Windows for a few applications, yet don't use the machine for internet communications or web surfing, and I only connect to the internet when necessary.

Going back to the topic, if you provide your private information to anyone other than yourself, you stand the risk of abuse.

The only thing good, is that you no longer have to worry about people reading your emails, you can count on it.

Wiretapping or Legal Search

I used to manage mail servers which stored mail in-transit or undelivered.

My opinion based on laws at that time that reading those emails would have been wiretapping.

Microsoft certainly can afford more lawyers than I can. Of course I would consider an automated electronic search of "code patterns" on their filesystems different from someone sitting down and poring thru messages.

I have Gmail hosting my mail and I know they scan it to display ads. I feel that is worth the price of not only free mail hosting but also saving me the headaches of dealing with spam.

7 Years on the Daily Paul!

jrd3820's picture

Ok, or legal?

From the sounds of it they were within legal boundaries. Is it Ok?
I don't know.... I don't like how they combed through his personal emails and went past just getting the information needed for the case.

Couldn't they have just sent a cease and desist letter instead?

But there are a few things here I find interesting.

The one attorney said; “What blogger will use that service now?” said Jennifer Granick, an attorney and director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society."

Really? Probably a lot of them. Most people won't care until it effects them. Who would use facebook knowing about all it's privacy issues? Most people. Until it effects them personally people will use convenient services.

It kind of ties into that question about why are people so mad about NSA and government spying and not mad about google/microsoft/facebook spying.

I think it's because with NSA they have no choice but to have their tax money taken from them to fund a massive spying program in a down economy where the program could potentially be used to incarcerate non violent criminals. But..... the real reason most people don't like NSA spying but don't care about private companies spying is because they aren't getting any services from NSA.

If they were getting social media pages, blogging services, and whatnot they wouldn't care.

It's not Ok. The way they handled it is far from Ok. Is it going to spark outrage and change the way people view that service? I doubt it.

I also can't help but wonder what these 2 guys thought would happen when they were playing piracy games with a tech giant like microsoft. I mean....again, it's not ok for them to go into their personal lives like that, but really.....really, you can't leak microsoft codes online and not expect to have some sort of repercussions at some point in time.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Michael Nystrom's picture

I mean OK

Yes, it does appear to be "legal." They were within their rights to do it, but no one gets angry or upset about it the way they do over the NSA. That was my whole point with posting this, and I think you answered it in a very perceptive way:

the real reason most people don't like NSA spying but don't care about private companies spying is because they aren't getting any services from NSA.

That is about the size of it, isn't it? And you're right that "Most people won't care until it effects them. " (Except I think you meant "affects" them.)

I use GMail, use GChat I have a Google Drive, etc. I just assume as a matter of course that they're spying on me, or that they could at some point. If the NSA can do it, obviously Google can, and if Microsoft did, then Google probably will too, at some point.

Did I mention that I had a screen takeover - on my phone - for "Google Now." That is a service whereby Google tells you what you want to know before you know you want it: "Hey, there's a restaurant right around the corner - here's 10% off," Etc. Which means they know exactly where you are at any given time, which means they could send a drone after you...

There is more concern over this kind of privacy invasion in Europe than here. Libertarians / conservatives seem more upset about the government (granted, they could come kill you), but they're just piggybacking on the likes of Google & Microsoft.

Personally, I think the government should be standing between MSFT/GOOG and citizens, but I guess that would make me a statist. And those people who would accuse me of such have a simple answer: "Don't use Google. 'Nuff said."

jrd3820's picture

I was thinking about 1 other thing about this the other day

Microsoft/googgle/fb spying....

I also think people don't mind this as much because really....people like spying on each other.

People love social media because it gives them the ability to connect with friends and family, but also...also because they can snoop on other people. Old friends or partners, new person at work, new neighbor....

It's not just huge corporations or the government that likes spying. People like spying. They like gossip. Everyone does. People like to know what is going on in the world of others. Sometimes out of genuine interest, but sometimes I think people like to use it as a way to measure their own lives and accomplishments.

And to take it a step even further, people don't mind being spied on until it becomes too personal. People put their info out there all over the internet for other people to see because they want people to know how they are doing and all the good things going on in their world.

Spying goes beyond microsoft and NSA. It's a part of culture.

And it isn't just as easy as 'not using google nuff said' is it?

Oh, I probably meant affect not effect. You win some you lose some.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Michael Nystrom's picture

Good insight

People like spying. Government is made of people. Ergo, government likes spying.

I remember when facebook first came out, it was still very exclusive. A friend who was still in high school told me about it - said I should sign up. Back then I wasn't able to. It was only for schools, at the time. It was very exclusive. They were clever like that, with their marketing.

At any rate, she was explaining it to me, and I still remember what she said: "It is a way to keep tabs on people that you don't really want to talk to." And I LOL'ed! Because it was so true.

Back when Samantha was doing her PhD, she also translated books on the side for income. One of the books she translated was this one called The Peep Diaries. The author coined a phrased called "Peep Culture." That is what we live in: A peep culture.

Everyone loves gossip. Gossipy threads get lots of traffic and interest. Even the author of the book himself said that his own blog - on which he described the "peep culture" from a scholarly perspective didn't get any play at all. Until he started gossiping about his wife, his kids, office politics, etc. Then suddenly everyone was interested!

My friend Becky wrote the novel Breakup Babe, but what I was much more interested was her eponymous blog at http://breakupbabe.blogsp..., because each morning she would write about the dates she was on the previous night. It was hilarious. Really, she was a star. It wasn't racy sex talk, but descriptions of the men she was with, the places they went, the awkward situations, etc.

That's what I think is so interesting about the concept of the audio s******. It gives people a way to be voyeuristic, which by nature they love.

The question is, how much do want to reveal? How much is it going to cost you? What will you get in return?

But the best kind of writing, that makes the best kind of reading, is the kind that is personal. Who made that mix tape for him?. What other songs were on there and why did you choose them? How did it come about that on those days you got to listen to music and not talk radio?

What makes music interesting - in my opinion - is that it is the soundtrack to our lives. U2's Achtung Baby was the soundtrack of my first year after college, living in Japan. 23 and free, and the world was exploding. "I'm ready!" To this day it brings back those memories.


Seven years later I actually visited Zoo Station in Berlin, and the meaning of the song was profoundly enriched. I ate at a McDonalds right next to the station, waiting for a train. I was ready. I was ready for it all.

Which is a long roundabout way to say that I'm interested in hearing more about a father and a daughter metal detecting together, and what was on that mix tape. I wasn't there. There's no way I can go there. Ever.

But you can take me there. You can go back there and bring it back to me.

Did I tell you how proud I am of you (how is it that I can be proud of you?) for just jumping right in there, starting that blog and inviting the world to come on over? Well I am.

aren't all stories

a form of gossip?

"It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go - maybe even longer. If a reasonably intelligent person learned to play Go, in a few months he could beat all existing computer programs." - Piet Hut

jrd3820's picture

You're the best

Your friend's book looks hilarious.

In a few days there will be a new post and you will know first and it will be the story you want to hear more about, and I will fill in those blanks for you so you can come metal detecting with my Dad and I on a Sunday morning.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss