The US has just passed an internet censorship bill, FOSTA, that holds internet companies responsible if users use their services to facilitate sex trafficking. It sounds a laudable aim on paper, but in reality how can say Microsoft actually
prevent users from using communication or storage services to support trafficking?
Well the answer is there is no real way to distinguish say adverts for legal sex workers from those for illegal sex workers. So the only answer for internet companies is to censor and ban ALL communications that could possibly be related to sex.
So there have been several responses from internet companies along these lines. Small ad company Craigslist has just taken down ALL personal ads just in case sex traffickers may be lurking there. A Craigslist spokesperson explained:
Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services.
Last week, several online porn performers who use Google Drive to store and distribute their adult content files reported that the service had suddenly and without warning blocked or deleted their files, posing a threat to their income streams.
And now it seems that Microsoft is following suit for users of its internet services in the USA. Microsoft has now banned offensive language, as well as nudity and porn, from any of its services -- which include Microsoft Office, XBox and even
The broad new ban was quietly inserted into Microsoft's new Terms of Service agreement, which was posted on March 1 and which takes effect on May 1 . The new rules also give Microsoft the legal ability to review private user content and block or
delete anything, including email, that contains offensive content or language. The rules do not define exactly what would constitute offensive language.
In theory, the new ban could let Microsoft monitor, for example, private Skype chats, shutting down calls in which either participant is nude or engaged in sexual conduct.
So wait a sec: I can't use Skype to have an adult video call with my girlfriend? I can't use OneDrive to back up a document that says 'fuck' in it? asked civil liberties advocate Jonathan Corbett, in a blog post this week. If I call someone a
mean name in Xbox Live, not only will they cancel my account, but also confiscate any funds I've deposited in my account?
Seemingly aware of the tentative nature of this policy, Microsoft included a couple of disclaimers. First off, the company notes that it cannot monitor the entire Services and will make no attempt to do so. That suggests that Microsoft is not
implementing live monitoring. However, it can access stored and shared content when looking into alleged violations. This indicates that part of this policy will work off of a user report system.
Microsoft also states that it can remove or refuse to publish content for any reason and reserves the right to block delivery of a communication across services attached to this content policy. Additionally, the punishments for breaking this code
of conduct now include the forfeiture of content licenses as well as Microsoft account balances associated with the account. That means that the company could theoretically remove games from your console or seize money in your Microsoft account.
Microsoft has just inflicted a new 'code of conduct' that prohibits customers communicating nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence and criminal activity, whilst allowing Microsoft to steal the money in your
If users are found to have shared, or be in possession of, these types of content, Microsoft can suspend or ban the particular user and remove funds or balance on the associated account.
It also appears that Microsoft reserves the right to view user content to investigate violations to these terms. This means it has access to your message history and shared files (including on OneDrive, another Microsoft property) if it thinks
you've been sharing prohibited material.
Unsurprisingly, few users are happy that Microsoft is willing to delve through their personal data.
Microsoft has not made it clear if it will automatically detect and censor prohibited content or if it will reply on a reporting system. On top of that, Microsoft hasn't clearly defined its vague terms. Nobody is clear on what the limit on
offensive language is.