Microsoft Gives Cloud Users Privacy Assurances

Ahead of a revised Microsoft Services Agreement, the company assures users of its cloud services that it will shield their content from advertisers.

cloud security

Data privacy on the cloud is serious business for Microsoft. And so the company is letting its users know its privacy policy for its cloud services in advance of the release of an updated Microsoft Services Agreement (MSA) that is due to take effect later this summer.

On July 31, Microsoft will update the user agreement that governs its cloud services slate, announced Ryan Gavin, general manager of Search, Cloud and Content at the tech behemoth. First, the company is making official its stance on data privacy in respect to advertising.

"We are now explicitly stating what we've said in past, that we don't use people's documents, photos or other personal files or what they say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to them," said Gavin in a Microsoft on the Issues blog post.

The assurances recall a major theme behind Microsoft's now-dormant "Scroogled" campaign. Last year, the company alleged that, unlike its own offering, Google was "reading" emails in Gmail inboxes to deliver targeted ads.

In a broader sense, the move reflects Microsoft's broader focus on privacy issues.

Currently, the Redmond, Wash.-based IT heavyweight is embroiled in a court battle to prevent the search of user data held overseas. Microsoft, with a show of support from Verizon, is fighting a U.S. government order for email files stored in servers outside of the country. In a curious twist, the U.S. Department of Justice is classifying the order as a subpoena-warrant "hybrid" in an effort to force the company to comply.

Microsoft also pledged to make its privacy statements easier for users to digest. The new Windows Services Privacy Statement, for instance, reads like a consumer-friendly FAQ, with concise explanations on the types of information the company collects and how that information is used.

Interestingly, the new MSA also gives infrequent users some more time to keep their accounts from being closed by Microsoft and risk the deletion of their data. Account holders must log in "at a minimum every year, to keep services associated with your Microsoft account active, unless provided otherwise in an offer for a paid portion of the Services," states the document. The previous requirement was at least once every 270 days.

In addition, users won't be left in the dark if action is taken against their Microsoft accounts. In the spirit of transparency, Gavin said his company "condensed separate Code of Conduct and Anti-Spam documents into a single list of activities that can result in a customer's account being closed, and added language about parents' responsibility for children using Microsoft account and services."

According to Microsoft, the affected services include Bing, MSN, (formerly Hotmail), OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), Microsoft account, Family Safety, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Writer,, Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium, Microsoft Office 365 University and other Microsoft Office-branded services that link to the agreement through a supplemental agreement.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...