Microsoft to clamp down on offensive language across Xbox Live, Skype, Office, everything

UPDATE 28TH MARCH: Xbox VIP Mike Ybarra clarified overnight there will be no policy change for Xbox Live, so the rules already in place there will remain the rules come 1st May.

There is no policy change for Xbox Live. https://t.co/NbpxkGXDUX

— Mike Ybarra (@XboxQwik) March 27, 2018

ORIGINAL STORY 27TH MARCH: Using offensive language on Xbox Live – as if! – Skype or even in shared Word documents may get you into trouble with Microsoft’s newly updated Code of Conduct. And if you get into trouble you could face suspensions or bans, have Xbox Live Gold membership time revoked or even lose money associated with the account.

If Microsoft investigates you it reserves the right to “review Your Content in order to resolve the issue”, too – which sounds a lot like ‘dig through your personal data’ to me.

The Microsoft Service Agreement changes come into effect 1st May 2018, so you’d better get those swear words out of the way now, you silly old s**tbags.

The relevant point about offensive language in the Summary of Changes to Microsoft Services Agreement was:

“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 [which are defined in the Code of Conduct section 13, points ‘a’ to ‘i’, and include Skype, Outlook and Office] may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licences, Xbox Gold Membership time and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.”

The referenced section in the Code of Conduct said:

“Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share any inappropriate content or other material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence or criminal activity).”

But nowhere did it stipulate which words would fall under “offensive language”. There was a link provided to an Xbox Code of Conduct page but it hasn’t been updated since 2015.

An expanded point on “enforcement” said:

“If you violate any of the obligations … or otherwise materially violate these Terms, we may take action against you including (without limitation) stopping providing Services or closing your Microsoft account immediately for good cause or blocking delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services.

“We also reserve the right to remove or block Your Content from the Services at any time if it is brought to our attention that it may violate applicable law or these Terms. When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we do not monitor the Services and make no attempt to do so.”

The notion Microsoft will penalise us for bad language between friends on Xbox Live and Skype seems silly, given how prevalent swear words are in day to day life. Presumably enforcing it will be a nigh on insurmountable task because of it. It also poses a challenge for people translating, transcribing or writing sweary dialogue.

But I doubt this is the kind of use Microsoft wants to crack down on. Nevertheless, if it’s one net thrown over everybody in order to catch abuse, inevitably more than the intended targets will be caught. More clarification is needed.