The latest Microsoft guidelines spooked users with concerns of censorship and banning. How will the new monitoring affect users and Microsoft’s bottom line?

How often do you use bad words in a candid conversation over Skype? What about while you’re playing a video game over XBOX Live?

New Microsoft guidelines enable Microsoft to monitor user engagements including the use of bad words. The Code of Conduct update doesn’t go into effect until May 1st. But plenty of users voiced concerns about data privacy.

Will using bad words over Skype get you banned from all Microsoft services?

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Microsoft logo | Microsoft via Jason Redmond, AFP, & Getty Images

Microsoft Can Review Your Activity

Many familiar with how the Internet works know that someone sees their every move.

Cookies track all of our browsing data, Google reads our emails, and 23andME sells DNA. Of course, Google did stop reading personal emails in order to customize advertisements. So maybe that’s a victory, however small.

Many users know that these are the rules of doing business in an IoT world. We sacrifice a decent amount of privacy in order to use various services. But does that contract negate accountability on behalf of the companies offering the services?

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Will my “home language” have to change now while I’m playing online? My neighbors certainly hope so | DreamDealer | YouTube

The Updated Conduct Rules Can Cost You

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have a work vocabulary and an “I’m with friends” vocabulary. Bad words generally don’t fall under the “work vocabulary” tab of my language center.

But both Skype and XBOX Live may fall under the “I’m with friends” category for many users. As such, they may not be as careful with the words they use. But is this something people should be worried about while using social apps like Skype?

According to the Code of Conduct updates, it could become a problem.

The new rules add “offensive language” as a punishable offense. That could mean getting barred from services for which you paid money. Even though an MS Office subscription is around $10 USD a month, no one wants to be banned for bad words.

This also extends to concerns regarding the use of other Microsoft products.

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He sees you. He judges you. | Microsoft

If Microsoft can see and read everything you do in its apps, it can track the content.

That means that my poem that uses the “s-word” could get flagged. Would I get a warning or a straight up ban from Microsoft?

If Microsoft wanted to add insult to injury, they could use the 90s paperclip. Imagine it: an animated paperclip pops up on your screen, unprompted.

It informs you that you have broken Microsoft’s Code of Conduct.

Do they shut down your MS Office or do they straight up brick your Windows PC?

That’s the problem with the vagueness of the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct.

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Now just imagine Thor with a giant paperclip in hand: that may be the new mascot of Microsoft | Marvel via Imgur

The Vagueness of the Term “Offensive Language”

One of the biggest issues is not necessarily the update itself. Users know that companies like Microsoft and Google monitor their content.

The main clause in question includes the following:

“…publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity)…”

You can see the good intentions here regarding preventing abuse of the services for illicit activities. But the inclusion of the term “offensive language” has people spooked.

This could extend to any of the terms on your average list of bad words. It could be as simple as someone calling something “stupid” to someone using a racial slur. The gamut covered by “offensive language” is too vague for many users.

As we have seen with YouTube comments, this kind of attempt to stop abuses can backfire.

LGBTQ+ content creators had their content flagged as “inappropriate” on restricted mode. They offered some explanations as to why, but many creators still question why.

Could the same issues befall Microsoft after the May 1st Code of Conduct update?

image of road signs warning about net neutrality protection for article New Microsoft Guidelines Make Bad Words Ban Worthy
This is just another sign on the road towards a more restricted and fractured internet | Image via ACLU

More Concerns Beyond Bad Words

These Code of Conduct changes coincide with recent SESTA/FOSTA updates. The bill triggered self-censorship for Craigslist that shut down its entire Personals page. Many subreddits also got banned pre-emptively.

While online harassment is a huge concern, censoring the voices of sex workers and speech advocates seems like the opposite of protecting vulnerable classes.

On the heels of Net Neutrality’s California showdown, we have the question: are all of the 13-year old Call of Duty players going to get banned from XBOX Live this year?

I jest, but you understand my meaning. These Microsoft Code of Conduct changes offer a mixed bag of intentions and implications. As users paying for their products and services, don’t we deserve more transparency?

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It might be time for a change in what the idea of regulation on the internet actually is | Image via fastcompany.com

Alternatives for Those Concerned About Privacy

People also targeted Google for their privacy invasion and digital mess ups. Certain users were locked out of their own Google Drive documents thanks to an “error”.

But Google monitors all of your emails AND all of the content in your various Google Drive documents. We have covered this before, citing the CEO’s comments about privacy as a cause for concern.

“If you’re doing something that you don’t want people to know [about], maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” – Eric Schmidt, Google

This logic is extremely dangerous for an IoT world with heightened interconnectivity. While some might consider bad words a problem, no one needs to be policed in a private document.

Whether a government or corporation does this does not matter. Users will censor themselves in personal Google documents or MS Word documents. That sounds like a violation of the First Amendment within the U.S. Bill of Rights to me.

Despite this, you have alternatives to the suite of programs Microsoft offers.

LibreOffice is one of the most prominent alternatives and it even offers four ways to access its source code. This kind of crowd-sourced, open development may be a salve to the concerns of data privacy moving forward.

You can also read the entire update on Microsoft’s website here in preparation.

Do you think these new guidelines will have adverse effects on Microsoft’s user base?

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