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Professional Troublemaker ®

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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censorship

Microsoft Bans “Offensive Language” from Skype

Update to the Microsoft Services Agreement E-mailThis morning, I got the kind of e-mail that most of us ignore: “Update to our terms of service” from Microsoft.  But I love waking up to read a good contract in the morning, so I had a look at the summary of changes to the “Microsoft Services Agreement,” which applies to things like Skype, Office 365, OneDrive, and a whole list of other services.  The summary turned out to be a 27 bullet point document of mostly bland changes — except for point 5:

5. 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 may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.

Looking through the full text of the new agreement, I found the relevant change in Section 3(a)(iv):

Don’t 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).

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?  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?  (And are we no longer allowed to shoot people in Call of Duty?  Animated violence doesn’t really get any more “graphic” than this Microsoft-approved video game offers.)

And how are they going to enforce this ban?  Are they going to be looking through my Skype sessions?  Section 3(b):

When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.

Got it.

What’s clear here is that Microsoft is reserving the right to cancel your account whenever they feel like it.  They do nothing to define “offensive language” (or “graphic violence,” for that matter) and in 2018 when anyone can be offended by anything, these terms allow Microsoft staff to play unrestrained censor if and when they choose.  Given that Google’s YouTube uses that power to remove politically “sensitive” videos (like those on legal firearm modifications), should we expect that Microsoft will also be removing content and users to earn PR points with the politically correct movement du jour?

What’s also clear is that they reserve the right to go through your private data, and these terms seem to pretty clearly allow them to watch and listen to your Skype calls, so long as they are “investigating” something.  The terms don’t appear to require any complaint to be filed against you — just that an employee decide that they want to “investigate.”

I’ll be setting my Skype account not to renew itself.

[Update 1 – Welcome to those new to the blog!  Professional Troublemaker primarily focuses on civil rights issues, especially privacy rights, and you may recall my work publicly embarrassing the TSA for their flawed body scanners and other failures.  If keeping our government — and occasionally large corporations — in check when they refuse to check themselves interests you, please hit that Follow button at the bottom of the page or follow on Twitter!]

[Update 2 – I’ve been banned from Reddit’s /r/Microsoft for sharing this story…

Banned from /r/Microsoft

YouTube Removes Gun Videos Showing Legal “Bump Stocks” After Vegas Shooting

I wouldn’t call myself a gun expert, but I am pretty familiar with gun laws and what may be legal to own in the United States versus what isn’t going to fly anywhere in the country.  After watching a couple of videos from the saddening incident in Las Vegas last week, I hypothesized on a Facebook post that the shooter probably had a “bump stock,” along with a YouTube video I found demonstrating the device:

The Bump Stock Hypothesis

My hypothesis — based on the rate of fire I could hear in the videos and knowledge of the difficulty any civilian in this country would have obtaining a real machine gun — was confirmed after photos leaked from the shooter’s hotel room.

If you’ve not yet become familiar, the “bump stock” is a legal rifle modification that is just two pieces of plastic with a spring between them.  The spring allows the trigger to release itself using the kinetic energy of the gun, allowing for the firing of the next round far faster than would be possible by manually releasing the trigger.  They are sold for as little as $100, and some gun enthusiasts have pointed out that with practice, you can use your shoulder like the spring and get faster rate of fire even without the $100 mod.

But when I went back to the video that I had posted, I got the following message:

YouTube Gun Censorship

YouTube, it seems, has now decided that videos showing perfectly legal guns in perfectly legal ways are “harmful or dangerous content” that violates its content policy.  People shooting real machine guns can still be found all over the site, and indeed, they haven’t gotten around to banning all the videos yet, but several of the videos that had been around for years have now disappeared.

I’m apparently not the only one who noticed.

I must assume that reason behind this is to make a political statement in favor of gun control, but why?  Watching videos of bump fire in action is pretty shocking when you’ve never seen it before, and if anything, I’d expect it would prompt the public to call for their immediate ban.  Google has, quite simply, taken it upon itself to impose its morals on all of us and to deprive the public of information.  Given the control over the Internet that Google has, I think we have a right to demand some objectivity rather than moderation practices based on emotions and feelings.

 

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