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Apple, Yahoo and Google Claim Right to Read User Emails

The UK’s Guardian has published a report that reveals the big email providers’ privacy conditions only stretch so far. The report explains how, along with Yahoo and Google, the fine print in Apple’s terms and conditions claims the right to read users’ emails.

The Guardian’s investigation was sparked by an earlier story about Microsoft admitting to reading a journalist’s Hotmail account in an effort to trace the source of an internal leak. That led to the arrest of former Microsoft employee Alex Kibkalo, who was accused of leaking Windows 8 to a blogger on a tech site.

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“The engineer was caught after the blogger emailed Microsoft to confirm the authenticity of the leaked Windows 8 code. Investigators at the firm then reportedly looked through the blogger’s hotmail account and instant messenger chats to identify the source of the leak, and found an email from Kibaklo,” wrote The Guardian last Thursday.

The company’s terms of service allow access of the accounts “when Microsoft forms a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to guard the… property of Microsoft”.

And it appears Microsoft is not alone. Other major email providers have similar terms of service.

Apple’s says, “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, as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, disclosure, or preservation is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process or request; (b) enforce this Agreement, including investigation of any potential violation thereof; (c) detect, prevent or otherwise address security, fraud or technical issues; or (d) protect the rights, property or safety of Apple, its users, a third party, or the public as required or permitted by law.”

As mentioned by MacRumors, Apple has a long established reputation for protecting its privacy, especially around the issue of possible new products. “According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, product secrecy is one of the specific tenets that has been responsible for Apple’s success, and in 2012, Tim Cook said the company would ‘double down on secrecy on products’,” says the site.

Even with these condition leaks will still occur; for example, details of the two most recent iPhones (the 5s and 5c) were widely spread around the internet before their release last September. So it should perhaps surprise no one that the company will insist on retaining rights to investigate future possible leaks, and if that means reading its users’ email then that’s what it will do.

Apple, like Google, didn’t respond to The Guardian‘s request for comment on the story, while Yahoo simply declined.

Kyron Timbs

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