EU raises "serious concerns" over Microsoft's role as data processor

EPDS tells EU organisations that outsourcing any data processing means they’re still responsible

Microsoft Office software packaged in its physical form on a table

The European Data Protection Supervisor has expressed "serious concerns" that Microsoft may have violated data protection laws through product and service agreements with EU institutions, preliminary results of an investigation have revealed.

The early results follow an initial probe by the Dutch data regulator into the data collection practices of Windows Pro and Windows 10 Home, based on their testing of changes to Microsoft's data collection policies.

After finding issues with Microsoft's data practices in 2018, the Minister of Justice and Security warned users to ditch OneDrive and Office 365 in the interim before demanding changes from the software giant.

Further checks in August of the changes Microsoft had since implemented showed that despite "concrete improvements", the company was still remotely collecting some forms of data from its users. This, according to investigators, constituted a potential violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The EDPS, an independent organisation that manages the application of GDPR across the continent, has subsequently weighed in with the results of its own probe into contracts Microsoft has agreed with EU institutions.

The EDPS also organised an EU software and cloud suppliers customer council in the Hague on 29 August, which led to the creation of the Hague Forum.

This collective aims to discuss how to take back control over IT services offered by big tech companies, while establishing how institutions can establish standard contractual terms instead of accepting vendor-led user agreements.

"We expect that the creation of The Hague Forum and the results of our investigation will help improve the data protection compliance of all EU institutions," said assistant EDPS Wojciech Wiewirowski.

"The agreement reached between the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and Microsoft on appropriate contractual and technical safeguards and measures to mitigate risks to individuals is a positive step forward.

"Through The Hague Forum and by reinforcing regulatory cooperation, we aim to ensure that these safeguards and measures apply to all consumers and public authorities living and operating in the EEA."

The EDPS also warned that outsourcing the processing of personal data still means organisations are accountable for the activities conducted on their behalf.

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