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

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

The tweaked agreement, which comes into effect on May 1, 2018, includes the following new code-of-conduct item:

And if you disobey?

Microsoft lists its online 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 the roster also includes things like Xbox Live, which has chat features that are used by morons to bully and harass fellow gamers. Smut and foul language also have no business at education.minecraft.net, the classroom-friendly edition of the uber-popular Minecraft.

The Register asked Microsoft if the new legalese was intended to stop people swearing on Skype or in Word files. A Redmond 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.

El Reg 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 netizens a way to complain about nasty behaviour by other Redmond subscribers.

Microsoft told The Register it does not listen to Skype conversations, which is good to know. But the Windows giant added that it may obtain evidence of material that breaches the code-of-conduct if the biz receives a complaint from someone, be it over a Skype chat or an email, etc.

Which is a problem because the long, long list of online services covered by the updated service agreement means users of many products need to take note of the new legalese – if you subscribe to a Microsoft service, make sure you stay within the code of conduct.

Microsoft insisted it won’t actively police its services – but, beware: it will investigate complaints from people who are offended by what you do on Redmond’s platforms.

On The Register’s reading of the rules, a profanity-laden file written in Office 365, or an email with a nude selfie attached sent using Windows Live Mail, may fall on the wrong side of the code, if reported to Microsoft by someone. As would asking Bing to look up “Simon Sharwood of The Register is sh*t” or telling Cortana to “f*ck off” if it somehow caused offense.

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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 America’s Entertainment Software Rating Board’s Adults Only 18+ rating covering games that “include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.” Even the board’s “mature” rating, applied to games suitable for players 17 years or older, warns that such software “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 bods can step in when there’s genuine abuse or harassment being thrown around on its services.

But the new agreement is problematic because it hints at far broader and frankly creepy interventions involving rifling through people’s private files, if someone is upset at another user. Which in light of recent revelations about abuse of personal data, just isn’t a good look no matter that the agreement was probably drafted with good intentions. ®

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