What the @#$%&!? Microsoft bans swearing on Skype, in e-mail, Bing or Office 365 docs

Microsoft has advised users of upcoming changes to its Services Agreement that will make it a potentially account-closing offence to use offensive language on Skype or in a Word document.

The new Services Agreement, which comes into effect on May 1st, 2018, includes the following new Code of Conduct item:

Microsoft lists the services covered by the Agreement here. To save you the click, the list includes:

  • Skype
  • Windows Live Mail
  • Office 365
  • Bing
  • Cortana

There’s some sense behind the new rules, because Microsoft’s list also includes services like XBOX Live that has chat features which could easily see users abuse and bully each other. Smut and foul language also have no business at education.minecraft.net/, the education edition of the uber-popular game.

The Register asked Microsoft if the new legalese was intended to stop people swearing on Skype. A company spokesperson sent us the following answer:

“We are committed to providing our customers with safe and secure experiences while using our services. The recent changes to the Microsoft Service Agreement’s Code of Conduct provide transparency on how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content.”

The Register understands that the key part of that mostly-non-answer is the language about “how we respond to customer reports of inappropriate public content”, as Microsoft’s intention is to give users a way to complain about nasty behaviour.

Microsoft has told The Register it does not listen to Skype conversations, which is good to know. But the company’s told us the it may request evidence of material that breaches the code if it receives complaints.

Which is a problem because the long, long, list of services covered by the Service Agreement means users of many products need to take note of the new legalese.

On The Register’s reading of the document a profanity laden-document written in Office 365, or email sent using Windows Live Mail fall on the wrong side of the Code. As would asking Bing to look up “Simon Sharwood of The Register is sh*t” or telling Cortana to “f*ck off”.

Sorry emoji

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And then there’s the absurdity of a ban of graphic violence or nudity, given that many XBOX games have attracted the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s Adults Only 18+ rating covering games that feature “include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.” Even the Board’s “Mature” rating for 17-plus players “May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

The Register understands that legalese needs to be broad so that Microsoft can step in when there’s genuine abuse of its services.

But the new Agreement is also problematic because it hints at far broader and frankly creepy interventions. Which in light of recent revelations about abuse of personal data just isn’t a good look, no matter that the Agreement has good intentions. ®

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