Microsoft is seeking permission from the U.S. government to let their customers know what kind of personal information they’ve been handing over.
Microsoft, along with Google and other tech companies, is trying to debunk media reports that the company has created a way for the National Security Agency to gain access to large amounts of its users’ online communications as part of a secret program code-named “PRISM.”
The reports surfaced last week after a government contractor leaked confidential documents revealing the NSA has been tapping into the computers of Google Inc. and many other Internet services to retrieve information about foreigners living outside the U.S. companies linked to PRISM are: Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo Inc., Apple Inc., AOL Inc., Paltalk, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Skype.
All the companies and services have denied giving the U.S. government unfettered access to user data. The companies say they only turn over user data under legally binding orders, and try to regularly resist orders considered to be too broad.
“We had the original reports last week from the New York Post and the Guardian which actually initially seemed to overstate the level of disclosure by these companies,” GeekWire’s Todd Bishop told Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio. “So if they’re able to come back and say ‘Hey wait, here is the scope, here’s what we’re actually giving over in response to direct court orders,’ their hope is that the public will be more assured.”
Minimizing the appearance of their involvement in PRISM will help the companies who don’t want web surfers to become paranoid about sharing personal information on their services or, worse yet, avoiding their websites altogether. Attracting big audiences helps the companies sell more advertising. Those ads command higher prices and run more frequently when the companies are able to decipher personal data and determine which parts of the audience are most likely to be interested in certain products.
“Microsoft’s hope is to basically defend its business,” said Bishop. “Microsoft, in this case especially is much more interested in its business interest than the national security interest than what the NSA is going after.”
As tech rivals go after the same goal of transparency amidst the NSA leak, Bishop’s favorite quote of the week came from a tweet from @Google. “Breaking news. For the first time ever. @Microsoft agrees with Google.”
An Associated Press report with contributions from MyNorthwest.com’s Alyssa Kleven