By now, most of us know that our employers are allowed to read our email. But what about the providers themselves? It turns out that the big tech companies like Google and Microsoft are probably reading your email … right now. (Or, at least, their algorithms are.) The issue is whether or not you should care.
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In Slate, software engineer David Auerbach writes about the case of Alex Kibkalo, a software architect at Microsoft who allegedly leaked Windows 8 to a blogger before release — and did so over his Hotmail account.
“The unidentified French blogger, also up against Kibkalo for a Darwin Award, then allegedly emailed the stolen files to Microsoft Windows President Steve Sinofsky to ask if they were authentic,” Auerbach writes. “Microsoft pounced on the blogger’s Hotmail account and searched it, where the company found an email from Kibkalo, then searched Kibkalo’s Hotmail account for more smoking guns.”
Microsoft then searched the email account of the blogger, who was not an employee of the company. Kibkalo was arrested and will stand trial for allegedly stealing trade secrets.
How is this significant to you? Well, hopefully you’re not doing anything illegal. But it’s always good to get a reminder that the terms of service we sign when we use just about any email account from one of the big companies — be they Microsoft, or Yahoo, or Apple, or Google — give those companies the right to troll through our data at will.
But will they?
“Courts do not … issue orders authorizing someone to search themselves, since obviously no such order is needed,” says Microsoft’s deputy general counsel John Frank, in a statement. “However, even we should not conduct a search of our own email and other customer services unless the circumstances would justify a court order, if one were available.”
So, in all likelihood, the most intrusive side effect of these companies’ access to your data will continue to be ads for divorce lawyers popping up in Gmail when you’re having a tiff with your significant other. But if you think you’re being private by going off the corporate email system and into “your” private account, just remember that Big Brother is watching.
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