Xbox, Skype, and other Microsoft service users are in for a rude awakening.
By Shabana Arif
An update to Microsoft’s Terms of Service is rolling out in May for Xbox, Skype, and other services that the company provides, which can result in account suspension and bans for the use of “offensive language” as well as “fraudulent activity.” The new Services Agreement goes live on May 1, with section 5 of the summary of changes referencing amendments to the Code of Conduct. “In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited. We’ve also clarified that violation of the Code of Conduct through Xbox Services may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.”
Hopping over to the Code of Conduct, section iv. reads “Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).” The obvious problem here is that there’s no definition of what “offensive language” entails, and it seems that even welcome nudity over Skype, for example, would be a violation of terms. Which is bad news for those of you attempting to cultivate long-distance relationships or generally engaging in a bit of consensual frivolity. “Graphic violence” isn’t defined either, so it would be interesting to see where the company would stand if you were reported for sharing a clip from a first-party exclusive game that someone might find disturbing enough to report. A lancer tearing though a Locust might be immensely satisfying, but it could be enough to turn the stomachs of people not familiar with Gears of War franchise, or those who find it excessively and unnecessarily violent. Microsoft can access the content you store or share on their services when investigating “alleged violations,” but they state that they can’t “monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.”
It’s not clear if the implication is that you’d have to be reported for behaviour that breaches the rules they’ve set out before they can investigate, and saying that they can’t monitor the services in their entirety isn’t necessarily the same as saying they’re not monitoring it in parts. The language is somewhat ambiguous, and it’s unclear if it relies solely on users being caught out and then reported, or if aspects of communication and stored content are being sifted through by Microsoft, that can then be flagged for investigation, giving them the right to start trawling through your data. As well as bans and suspensions, Microsoft can also “remove or refuse to publish” your content “for any reason,” as well as blocking “delivery of a communication” like emails, instant messages, and file sharing. Jonathan Corbett, a Civil rights activist and law student, highlighted the changes to Microsoft’s Service Agreement on his blog, and was seemingly banned from Reddit’s /r/Microsoft for posting his story. IGN has contacted Microsoft for comment and clarification on the changes. Shabana is a freelance writer who enjoys JRPGs, wine, and not finishing games. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram