Microsoft sues US government with a dose of hypocrisy


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Microsoft is getting praise for its latest legal outing against the US government but they are being somewhat hypocritical too.

The company is suing the US government for the right to notify customers when the government asks for private information stored on behalf of a customer.   The case seems to be focused on email storage but presumably applies to data saved on OneDrive, SharePoint online or Azure.

It’s nice to see this case because the US government is increasingly being seen as overreaching in the scope of the data they are collecting.  As we’ve reported before, these concerns don’t only apply in the USA because the US Patriot Act extends access to any data stored or routed by a US company anywhere in the world.

But there’s hypocrisy in Microsoft’s case.   We were struck by this part of the Microsoft’s filing:

People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud …”

It’s hard to believe that Microsoft’s legal team wrote that. Everyone who uses Microsoft’s cloud services do give up their rights, it’s a condition of using the services.

Microsoft should be pushing the US government about privacy but they should also remember the saying “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Microsoft itself has been caught reading customers emails when it’s been in the companies self-interest, with no notice to the customer.  That’s just the cases which have become public later.

Certainly Microsoft gives themselves the right to look at anything you save on their cloud services as said in their Terms:

Microsoft reserves the right to review materials posted to the Communication Services and to remove any materials in its sole discretion.”

(‘Review‘ is a weasel word — it means they’ll read your emails, documents etc.)

While the terms say that “Microsoft does not claim ownership of the materials you provide” the same paragraph goes on to effectively give Microsoft ‘carte blance’ to use your data anyway they like:

you are granting Microsoft, its affiliated companies and necessary sublicensees permission to use your Submission in connection with the operation of their Internet businesses (including, without limitation, all Microsoft Services), including, without limitation, the license rights to: copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat your Submission; to publish your name in connection with your Submission; and the right to sublicense such rights to any supplier of the Services.”

Sure, Microsoft will make various reassuring statements but they have no legal effect,  Only the formal terms of use matter.

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