Microsoft is updating the standard service agreement for many of its online properties — including Bing, MSN, SkyDrive, Office.com, Messenger, Hotmail and others — to give the company more freedom to leverage user content across its various products and services.
The change reflects “the way we’re designing our cloud services to be highly integrated across many Microsoft products,” the company says in an email message to its users, notifying them of the change. The message says the new user agreement takes effect Oct. 19, and people who continue using the Microsoft services after that day will implicitly be agreeing to its terms.
Old: “You understand that Microsoft may need, and you hereby grant Microsoft the right, to use, modify, adapt, reproduce, distribute, and display content posted on the service solely to the extent necessary to provide the service.”
New: “When you upload your content to the services, you agree that it may be used, modified, adapted, saved, reproduced, distributed, and displayed to the extent necessary to protect you and to provide, protect and improve Microsoft products and services. For example, we may occasionally use automated means to isolate information from email, chats, or photos in order to help detect and protect against spam and malware, or to improve the services with new features that makes them easier to use. When processing your content, Microsoft takes steps to help preserve your privacy.”
Also notable is the switch to the passive voice in that clause. Whereas users previously granted Microsoft the specific right to do those things, they now agree that their content “may be used” for those things, with no explicit reference to who would be doing the using, as long as it benefits Microsoft services.
At the time, Microsoft sought to capitalize on the uproar by inviting Google’s users to try Microsoft’s competing services. The implication was that Google’s reliance on advertising revenue would cause the company to use the new policy to target ads in a way that users wouldn’t like.
Microsoft took out a series of full-page newspaper ads in which it warned users about Google’s policy changes. An excerpt from one …
“Those changes, cloaked in language like ‘transparency,’ ‘simplicity’ and ‘consistency,’ are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services.”
“But, the way they’re doing it is making it harder for you to maintain control of your personal information. Why are they so interested in doing this that they would risk this kind of backlash? One logical reason: Every data point they collect and connect to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser.”
So how do the Microsoft and Google agreements now compare on the question of user content? Here is Google’s clause …
When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.
Bottom line, these particular portions of the two agreements are now more similar when it comes to each company’s rights with the content its users upload. The bigger unknown is how each company will be motivated to use the leeway it has given itself in its revised agreement.
Microsoft’s changes also include a provision blocking class-action claims and requiring users to instead go to arbitration or small claims court in the case of a dispute with the company. Microsoft had previously signaled its intention to do this, following in the footsteps of several other companies and taking advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed such clauses.