Microsoft boosts its Electronic Frontier Foundation privacy rating

It bags a 4 out of 6 rating, earns praise for exposing prevalence of National Security Letters

Microsoft is winning praise from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for taking stronger stands to protect the privacy of customers’ data that it stores in its cloud data centers.

In its annual “Who’s Got Your Back?” report the EFF singles out Microsoft for praise twice – for publishing the number of times it provided data to the government and for requiring warrants before turning over private messages to law enforcement.

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In all Microsoft earned three more stars this year than last, boosting its score to four stars out of a possible six, the EFF says, which puts the company in the middle of the pack of 18 service providers the report grades.

The new stars – for publishing a transparency report, for requiring warrants before releasing private messages and for publishing the guidelines it follows before it turns over information in response to government requests.

Microsoft also earned a star for being a member of the Digital Due Process coalition, which lobbies Congress for privacy rights.

The company missed out on two stars for failing to tell users when their data is requested and for failing to fight in court for users’ privacy rights.

Microsoft has been evaluated since EFF started writing the reports in 2011, and this is the first time Microsoft has published a transparency report, the EFF says.

Microsoft is cited as trailblazing the reporting of National Security Letters, documents the FBI issues without court approval to gather personal records so long as it deems the information relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations.

Recipients of these letters are forbidden to reveal the existence of the letters to close associates or family and certainly not to the general public. But Microsoft has helped boost public understanding of these letters by publishing the numbers of these orders it has received, EFF says. “While these general reports do not provide exact numbers, they provide a small but vital level of public transparency around this secretive legal instrument,” the report says.

Microsoft was also called out as requiring warrants before it will release private messages, typically emails, to law enforcement. “When companies require a warrant before turning over private messages to law enforcement, they are ensuring that private user communications are treated consistently with the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” the EFF report says.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.

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