We can now add a new Microsoft policy of punishing account users who use “offensive language” while logged into one of their products or services to the growing list of draconian measures employed by tech companies to police online content.
In a release summarizing the new policy, which will go into effect May 1, Microsoft stated:
In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited.
Microsoft stated that they may temporarily suspend or boot offending users permanently from their products. They also reserve the right to search through user content.
The company’s code of conduct was written to crack down on spam, the transmission of malware, child exploitation, and illegal activity. So far, Microsoft has not been explicit about what will constitute offensive language.
Users expect the policy to have the biggest effect on Xbox Live players, who are known to troll each other during games. But other Microsoft customers worry the new code of conduct could restrict free speech on platforms like Skype and OneDrive.
Civil rights activist Jonathan Corbett challenged the company in a blog post, writing:
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? What’s clear here is that Microsoft is reserving the right to cancel your account whenever they feel like it.
While users commenting on Reddit claim the policy is really nothing new, many Microsoft customers and tech users fear the move is a pretext for censoring people. It adds to an intensifying debate regarding tech companies and social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google tweaking their algorithms to control page reach and enacting measures that restrict creative expression and free speech. Some journalists claim the Big 5 tech companies — Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon — as well as other information gatekeepers, are taking censorship cues from Washington lawmakers and acting as the de facto face of repressive government.