Microsoft accessed the Hotmail emails of a blogger thought to be the recipient of leaked Windows pre-release information, in order to identify and help arrest the employee who shared them.
The alleged leaker is former Microsoft employee Alex Kibkalo, who was arrested Monday. According to a complaint filed the same day in Seattle, Kibkalo is charged with stealing and leaking trade secrets "knowing that such acts would injure Microsoft."
The court documents also show Microsoft went through the personal emails of a blogger whom Kibkalo contacted -- something the company was able to do because cause the blogger used Microsoft's Hotmail (now called Outlook.com). CNet was the first to report on the Hotmail-related news.
"While Microsoft’s terms of service make clear our permission for this type of review, this happens only in the most exceptional circumstances," the company wrote in a blog post late Thursday, in which it also spelled out "strengthened" policies for such situations going forward.
Microsoft's terms of service state the company "may access or disclose information about you, including the content of your communications" for reasons including to "protect the rights or property of Microsoft or our customers."
Microsoft began its investigation in September 2012, when an unnamed source tipped off the company about Kibkalo's alleged sharing of Windows code that had not yet been released. The blogger, who is also not named in the court documents, had contacted this source for verification of the information Kibkalo leaked.
Four days later, Microsoft's legal compliance team "approved content pulls of the blogger's Hotmail account."
It's unclear what penalty Kibkalo could face if he is convicted. The court filing says Kibkalo has admitted to providing "confidential Microsoft products and information to the blogger."