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.
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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.