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Microsoft updates privacy policy

20 June 2014, 10:23Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town - Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it had revised its privacy policy to limit targeted advertising to users of its applications.

The company which produces Windows and popular Office software said that it will not use content of messages and documents to target advertising.

"As part of our ongoing commitment to respecting your privacy, we won't use your documents, photos or other personal files or what you say in e-mail, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to you," Microsoft said in a message to users.

Internet privacy issues have put many internet companies on the back foot as revelations about US government spying have hurt trust in online platforms.

Technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft have appealed to the US government to limit the scale of intrusion into web properties.

Free services

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed a programme of wide scale data mopping up operations being carried out by government agencies.

The data is question is mostly metadata - "data about data" - which refers to details like which numbers were called rather than the content of a call.

However, critics have argued that metadata can be used to identify a person's social circle and location. Many smartphone applications have the ability to record location history, device identification, and even contact lists and memory card content.

As pressure mounts to monetise free services, companies have increased the intensity of advertising to users on websites, mobile sites and applications.

Microsoft concedes that will target its advertising platforms, but offered users a way to opt out.

"You may opt out of receiving targeted ads from Microsoft Advertising by visiting our opt-out page," says the company in its new Windows Services Privacy Statement.

South Africa recently promulgated the Protection of Personal Information Act, commonly known as Popi, which makes it illegal for companies to trade personal data with third parties.

While Popi advances penalties for exchanging data, the lack of a regulator appointment means that there is currently no oversight in terms of ensuring company compliance with the law.

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