Microsoft disclosed for the first time on Thursday the number of requests it had received from government law enforcement agencies for data on its hundreds of millions of customers around the world, joining the ranks of Google, Twitter and other Web businesses that publish so-called transparency reports.
Pictured: Microsoft's offices at Sandyford in Dublin, Ireland. (Alan Betson)
The report, which Microsoft said it planned to update every six months, showed that law enforcement agencies in five countries -- Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and the United States -- accounted for 69 percent of the 70,665 requests the company received last year.
In 80 percent of requests, Microsoft provided elements of what is called noncontent data, like an account holder's name, sex, e-mail address, I.P. address, country of residence, and dates and times of data traffic.
In 2.1 percent of requests, the company disclosed the actual content of a communication, like the subject heading of an e-mail, the contents of an e-mail or a picture stored on SkyDrive, its cloud computing service.
Microsoft said it disclosed the content of communications in 1,544 cases to law enforcement agencies in the United States, and in 14 cases to agents in Brazil, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.
"Government requests for online data are like the dark matter of the Internet," said Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which has campaigned for greater disclosure.
Ms. Galperin said that even with Microsoft's disclosures, fewer than 10 companies published the extent of their cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
"Only a few companies report this, but they are only a very small percent of the online universe," she said. "So any one company that joins the disclosure effort is good news. The faster this becomes a standard for all Web businesses, the better."
The law enforcement requests concerned users of Microsoft services including Hotmail, Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Skype and Xbox Live, where people are typically asked to enter their personal details to obtain service.
SOURCE: KEVIN J. O'BRIEN
The New York Times
The New York Times