Microsoft will allow overseas customers to have their personal data stored outside the United States in response to concerns about allegations of US government spying, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said yesterday.
Smith said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that while other technology companies opposed the idea, it had become necessary following leaks about the US National Security Agency's data-collection programs.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft confirmed his comments.
It would be the most radical move yet by a US technology company to combat concerns that American intelligence agencies routinely monitor foreigners.
The Microsoft spokesperson declined further comment on the remarks that Smith made to the Financial Times, which published them on Wednesday.
"People should have the ability to know whether their data are being subjected to the laws and access of governments in some other country, and should have the ability to make an informed choice of where their data resides," Smith told the newspaper.
He went on to say that customers could choose where to have their data stored in Microsoft's wide network of data centres.
For example, Europeans could specify a facility in Ireland.
The airing of the idea, which Smith did not back up with concrete plans, was the clearest sign so far that Microsoft is worried about the public backlash, especially overseas, to revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the agency claimed to directly tap into technology companies' servers to spy on foreign individuals.
Microsoft denies that claim, and has said that it only handed over customer data when properly requested by intelligence agencies, but an air of mistrust has remained, especially in Europe and China.
If Microsoft follows through on Smith's suggestion, it would mark a departure from US technology companies' largely unified response to the NSA scandal, which has so far steered away from the idea of offering data storage outside of the US for overseas users.
Microsoft, along with Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and other technology companies, jointly called in December for reforms in the way governments use internet surveillance, lobbying for more transparency and a ban on bulk data collection.
But the companies also backed free access to data and demanded that "governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country's borders or operate locally".
Offering customers the choice of data centres would be easier for Microsoft than some smaller companies, as it already has a number of storage facilities across the globe.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg