Microsoft Is Altering the Deal

Microsoft recently announced some changes to its terms of services:

5. 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.

This is a great example of the pitfalls of the licensing model. When you purchase a game, movie, or other form of digital content from Microsoft, you’re merely acquiring a very one sided license. Effectively the license states that you can continue to use the content so long as Microsoft doesn’t decide to revoke your license. To make matters worse, the license gives Microsoft the option to alter the terms of the license whenever it wants and without even giving prior notice. In this case Microsoft changed the terms to state that your content licenses can be revoked if you use “offensive language” (a term so vague that it covers pretty much anything you say).

But the fun didn’t stop there. In order to enforce the new terms of service, Microsoft has also reserved the right to surveil you:

When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.

And this is a great example of the pitfall of not having end-to-end encryption. Microsoft’s services generally lack an end-to-end encryption option, which means a man in the middle, like Microsoft or any entity it authorizes, can view whatever information is being transmitted using its services. Your Skype sessions aren’t as private as you might think.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. Any agreement that gives one party no power and the other party absolute power, like content licenses, is going to be abused by the party with absolute power. Fortunately, unlike with government, you have an option when Microsoft does something you don’t like; you can cease using its products and services.