Microsoft can read your Office documents, legally

If Microsoft can read Outlook.com email, they can read your Office documents too.

The news that Microsoft read the email of a Hotmail/Outlook.com user without his knowledge raises the question of access to OneDrive data

Microsoft Office and Windows 8 encourage people to save documents and pictures to Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) service. Some Office mobile apps only work with documents saved to OneDrive.

How safe from reading are those documents from Microsoft’s eyes? Not at all.

Microsoft’s Terms of Use is quite clear that anything saved to OneDrive can be read by Microsoft for any reason, at any time and without notice.

The same ‘Terms of Use’ that Microsoft used to justify reading a private Hotmail account also apply to OneDrive documents:

Microsoft reserves the right to review materials posted to the Communication Services and to remove any materials in its sole discretion

Other cloud storage companies have similar wording. Google has some qualification on their broad powers but Microsoft doesn’t have that legal ‘fig leaf’.

It’s important to read the Terms of Use only. Microsoft staff make all manner of vague promises and assurances but, as the latest case shows, the company will rely on the Terms of Use alone to do whatever they feel is necessary.

In addition, we know those documents and images can be accessed by government agencies like America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ.

The only protection would be to use password protected documents however that’s a nuisance. Office Web Apps and Office Mobile apps can’t open password protected documents so you’ll lose some of the advantage of cloud storage.

All of the cloud storage suppliers have similar wording in their formal terms of use but it seems only Microsoft has been caught using those powers for its own benefit.