EU privacy watchdogs scrutinizing Microsoft's policy changes

Summary:European regulators will examine Microsoft's new services agreement to determine if it falls foul of European law, months after Google was reprimanded for a similar privacy policy change.

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European regulators are scrutinizing Microsoft's latest service agreement changes, only months after Google consolidated its own privacy policies and sparked widespread criticism from the bloc's data protection and privacy regulators.

Changes to the software giant's policies on how it will handle user data for its Web products, not limited to Hotmail and its Bing search engine, are being formally examined by the member state bloc's regulators to determine if they fall foul of the European Union's strict privacy rules, Bloomberg reports.

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Microsoft updates service terms; follows in Google's footsteps

While Microsoft's has clearly learned from Google's privacy policy disaster, the Redmond giant's new service agreement skirts close to the edges.

According to a letter obtained by the publication, the chairman of the Article 29 Working Party, a EU group made up of individual member states' data watchdogs, wrote to Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer to inform the company that the new policy, which "may affect many individuals in most or all of the EU member states," will be looked into by the group to "check the possible consequences for the protection of the personal data of these individuals in a coordinated procedure."

Part of the review will be to ensure that Microsoft's move to inform users of the policy changes are up to the standards of the EU regulators.

The changes came into effect on October 19 as part of a new agreement set out by the Redmond, Wash.-based company, but were announced by email to consumers and users a month earlier in September. 

Microsoft's new policy now includes a clause that allows data to be shared across its cloud and desktop services, similar to how Google's new consolidated privacy policy acts, as it shares user data from one service to another.

With the launch of Windows 8, the policy would mean user data could be shared across the firm's other products in order to personalize other services. 

Google came under heavy fire from European regulators earlier this year when it announced it would consolidate its 60-plus privacy policies across its various services into one single policy. EU regulators asked Google to hold off on the changes  to determine whether the policy fell foul of EU privacy law, but the search giant went ahead despite the warnings on March 1.

In October, the French data and privacy watchdog, the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), ruled that Google's policy may not be "in compliance" with European law, and the search giant must alter its policy to meet the recommendations of the Article 29 Working Party.

A Microsoft spokesperson in Brussels told ZDNet in an emailed statement: "We're happy to answer any questions officials may have about recent changes to the Microsoft Services Agreement, which we’ve said previously do not alter our privacy policies."

Topics: Microsoft, EU, Privacy

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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