Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAP), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) also reserve the right to read their customers’ e-mail accounts, says a report from The Guardian by Alex Hern, who actually scanned the user agreements that most of us do not even bother to read. Up until now, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) was believed to be the only company to break into its users’ e-mail accounts.
Microsoft incident highlighted the issue
Last week, the issue was highlighted when a former Microsoft employee was arrested for selling secret documents of Windows 8 source code. The charges were filed against the Russian-born Alex Kibkalo in a Seattle federal court. The Hotmail exchanges between Kibkalo and a French blogger were presented as proof against Kibkalo. These emails were read by Microsoft, without a specific court order.
This incident aroused the curiosity in the Guardian’s Hern to see if other tech giants also follow similar guidelines with regard to reading users’ e-mail accounts. Hern then went through the legal agreement that most of the users generally skip by pressing the “Agree” button.
Apple, Yahoo, Google have similar agreements
Here is the relevant portion of the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAP)’s iCloud agreement: “You acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party……”
Yahoo requires users to “acknowledge, consent and agree that Yahoo may access… your account information and Content… in a good faith belief that such access… is reasonably necessary to… protect the rights… of Yahoo.”
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) agreement asks users to “acknowledge and agree that Google may access… your account information and any Content associated with that account… in a good faith…”
The current laws in place are inadequate to prevent the tech firms from accessing the emails. For standard law enforcement, a warrant is required to read a person’s email, but on hosting servers there are no such restrictions. So though reading others’ email without a court order is considered reprehensible, it is perfectly legal as long as you happen to be the company that hosts the email service.