Microsoft tweaks web terms as it follows Google's lead
By Nicole Kobie
Posted on 3 Sep 2012 at 10:03
Microsoft has updated the terms and conditions for its web services, allowing it to share data between web services.
The move follows a similar update to Google's terms. In January, Google said it would cut its privacy policies from 70 to only a few, making it easier for users to actually read the document, but also allowing Google to share data across products and link its services.
That policy grabbed the attention of EU regulators, who said the new terms broke European data rules; a ruling on the issue is expected later this month.
Microsoft's changes don't appear to be as wide-reaching as Google's, but follow the same route of integrating web-based services.
Your data could ultimately be used for something that has no relationship at all to the purpose for which you provided it
"We also clarified how Microsoft uses your content to better protect consumers and improve our products, including aligning our usage to the way we're designing our cloud services to be highly integrated across many Microsoft products," Microsoft said in an email sent to users. "We realise you may have personal conversations and store personal files using our products, and we want you to know that we prioritise your privacy."
Andrew Nicol, a New-York based lawyer, told VentureBeat that the changes were "bad for users".
He noted that the previous version allowed Microsoft to use data "solely to the extent necessary to provide the service", while the new terms mean it can use your content to "provide, protect and improve" any "Microsoft products and services".
"It means that personal information that previously could only be used for the limited purpose of providing a single service can now be shared throughout the Microsoft corporate structure," he said. "Your data could ultimately be used for something that has no relationship at all to the purpose for which you provided it."
"For example, people are now mostly comfortable with the idea of Google scanning your email in order to display relevant search results in Gmail," he said, adding that Microsoft could theoretically start scanning Office documents and displaying related ads in Bing searches - although Microsoft has not suggested it has any such plans.
The change affects many of Microsoft's online services, specifically including Hotmail, SkyDrive, Bing and Windows Live Messenger.
The new agreement comes into force on 19 October - and continuing to use the services means you accept the new terms.
No right to sue
In the US, users will also be banned from taking part in class-action suits against Microsoft. "You are giving up the right to litigate (or participate in as a party or class member) all disputes in court before a judge or jury," the terms read. "Instead, all disputes will be resolved before a neutral arbitrator, whose decision will be final except for a limited right of appeal under the Federal Arbitration Act."
Microsoft promised the update would make "it easier to read and understand" the contract, following widespread criticism of website terms being too difficult for most people to follow, and too long - leading to websites, such as Terms of Service; Didn't Read, that help break down the legal terms.
The general trend
It seems that many of the providers of such services are heading in a similar direction.
I'm not convinced that there is malevolent intent behind the changes, but negative outcomes for the user are nontheless possible.
In the case of Microsoft, these changes are potentially more significant than when Google did similar. As we know, in Windows 8 a MS logon of some kind is strongly encouraged and will indeed be necessary if you wish to use the App Store. Once your computer's user account is tied to your MS account, exactly what information about your PC and its contents are being shared?
However it is Microsoft's train set and they have a right to play with it. Those who are deeply concerned about such things will have a choice to make: get over it, or abstain from using Microsoft's products and services.
I can see a situation in the not too distant future where truly controlling your data will mean using Linux and paying for email services with strong privacy contracts.
By SirRoderickSpode on 3 Sep 2012
"However it is Microsoft's train set and they have a right to play with it. Those who are deeply concerned about such things will have a choice to make"
Well, up to a point, it may be 'their train set', but they are still subject to the laws of the territory where they lay their tracks. And thankfully, that territory is not the Wild West. The EU has already indicated its dim view of Google's version, and my understanding of data protection law in the UK is likewise that personal data can only be used for the purposes for which it was provided. Statute always trumps Ts&Cs. Let's hope it stays that way.
By martindaler on 3 Sep 2012
"Statute always trumps Ts&Cs. Let's hope it stays that way."
By SirRoderickSpode on 3 Sep 2012
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