Offensive Language can result on your Skype being monitored

Earlier this year, Microsoft modified the Terms of Use for many of the services that it offers. While most of the changes won’t have a significant impact, there are some parts that have caused controversy as they can affect the digital privacy rights of customers. The changes to the “Microsoft Services Agreement” apply to over 90 Microsoft services including Skype, Xbox, Cortana, Office 365 and OneDrive.

The parts that have left costumers and online freedom advocates concerned indicate 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.”

In addition, there is an update that states that the use of Microsoft services like Skype to share material that involves offensive language, pornography, graphic violence, nudity and more, is also prohibited. While Microsoft’s changes may focus on preventing users from sharing or storing illegal content on its services, the definition of “inappropriate material” may be broad. For instance, it is worth considering that under the new terms, couples are not allowed to exchange nude or saucy photos, even when they are consenting adults who happen to be in a long distance relationship. Moreover, swearing during a conversation or storing a document that contains offensive language (many novels and movie scripts could fall in this category) to OneDrive would also be against the rules.

As we know, some players are likely to swear in the heat of the moment, but now, this could have harsh consequences. You may lose your Xbox Gold Account and Microsoft may even go as far as confiscating the outstanding balances on your account. If you get upset at Cortana, or simply want to joke around and say some bad words, you could also be impacted by the new conditions of service that Microsoft has implemented.

One of the main reasons behind Microsoft’s changes is likely to be the recently passed Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA. While the bill aims to tackle online sex trafficking, the fact that it can hold platforms accountable for users’ speech and the content that is shared, could lead to online censorship as platforms implement tougher restrictions on their users.

What is the threat to privacy?

While it is easy to think that enforcing the new terms of service will be challenging for Microsoft, there is a disturbing addition to the agreement that facilitates things for the company and puts your privacy at risk. In Section 3(b), it is mentioned that:

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

In other words, Microsoft is granting itself permission to access your Skype conversations, in case it has reasons to believe that you are acting against the terms of use. This doesn’t only apply for Skype, but for any other Microsoft services so if you are flagged for swearing, the company reserves the right to monitor your accounts as part of its investigation.

Digital rights experts and privacy activists have expressed their concerns regarding the new agreement and the fact that it pretty much gives Microsoft the right to cancel your account at any stage. There is no specific criteria used to establish what could be considered as offensive, which gives Microsoft freedom to use its own definition. It doesn’t even seem to be required that a complaint is filed against you for an investigation to be launched. Microsoft employees could choose to investigate and close accounts, whenever they deem it necessary.

What would be considered as offensive?

The lack of clear definitions regarding what would be considered as “offensive language” means that users may struggle to understand what exactly would lead to issues with their Microsoft account. Given that Microsoft’s changes could have a significant impact on users’ digital privacy, the company should at least provide detailed information about what is allowed and what is not.

As previously mentioned, many people swear while playing a game or when they are talking to friends. Furthermore, writers may create characters who happen to use a lot of profanity. If they use Microsoft services to store or share their work, would they also be investigated and have their privacy compromised? It appears that this could be the case. It is not clear what is seen as offensive and Microsoft is known for its invasive practices. Under these conditions, it is likely that the company monitors users’ content in its platform on a regular basis.

End to End Encryption

Not all is bad news. Back in January, Microsoft announced that it is implementing End to End Encryption (E2E) on Skype via the Signal Protocol. However, it should be noted that initially, only text messages will be encrypted. The encryption option, known as Private Conversations, has to be enabled by users. In order to keep your privacy protected, it is important that you enable the Private Conversations option. While it is only available for individual contacts and not for group conversations, at least it offers a layer of protection that can help you to defend your privacy against eavesdropping. You can follow the below steps to enable the feature:

1. Select the + icon
2. Choose New Private Conversation¨
3. Select the contact you want to start a Private Conversation with. You will be directed to a new chat with that person.
4. They will receive an invitation asking them to accept your invitation to a private chat. The invitation will expire after 7 days so they need to accept before that.¨
5. Once the contact accepts, the Private Conversation can be started on that specific device. You can move the conversation to a different device, but you will need to resend the invite from that device.

Use a VPN

Another way to enhance the protection to your privacy is to use a VPN service to ensure that your entire internet traffic is encrypted. A VPN scrambles your data, making it unreadable by third parties. In addition, a VPN allows you to get around online restrictions that prevent you from accessing content. ExpressVPN, IPVanish, NordVPN, PIA and PureVPN are some of the most popular and reliable options available.