Just before the holiday weekend, Microsoft notified users via email that a new Services Agreement will be taking effect on all of its services starting on October 19th.
Among the changes include every user's binding agreement to waive all rights to participate in class action lawsuits against Microsoft.
News of the changes saw praise for Microsoft's simplification of its agreement into a simple question-and-answer format. And that's certainly a plus: clear and consistent licensing is good for everyone.
Microsoft was, in fact, crystal clear about what will be affected. From the email:
We've updated the Microsoft Services Agreement, which governs many of our online services - including your Microsoft account and many of our online products and services for consumers, such as Hotmail, SkyDrive, Bing, MSN, Office.com, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, Windows Mail Desktop, and Windows Writer.
The email also specified the change to class action suit participation.
Finally, we have added a binding arbitration clause and class action waiver that affects how disputes with Microsoft will be resolved in the United States.
Sounds simple, but a look at the clause and waiver reveals that by using Microsoft's products, users will be effectively "signing" an agreement to waive their rights to class action lawsuits:
10.3. Binding arbitration. If you and Microsoft don't resolve any dispute by informal negotiation or in small claims court (...) 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.
That's pretty interesting, don't you think?
For extra lulz, combine this change with the first line of Microsoft's now-clarified Code of Conduct under its Microsoft Services Agreement:
You will not upload, post, transmit, transfer, distribute or facilitate distribution of any content (including text, images, sound, video, data, information or software) or otherwise use the service in a way that:
depicts nudity of any sort including full or partial human nudity or nudity in non-human forms such as cartoons, fantasy art or manga.
incites, advocates, or expresses pornography, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, hatred, bigotry, racism, or gratuitous violence.
If true, that would not be as hilarious as it sounds.
But like any pulp noir junkie who loves characters that make a series of malformed decisions and then everything ends badly at the end of the book, I went back and read the entire - and now quite easy-to-read - Microsoft Services Agreement.
Microsoft cares about privacy (to the extent of CYA, for sure). Microsoft it is also up front about robo-parsing your emails, chats and more:
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.
I have to think that this bit is mostly to prevent users of Microsoft products from commercial porn distribution, like via Hotmail, rather than focusing on every person whose material is subject to its search algorithm.
Well, I remain ever hopeful anyway.
At the very least because Bing is way better for finding porn than Google these days, and any pornographer that uses Hotmail to deliver content should just be smacked upside the head for having no style.
Okay, I'm being snarky - and I'm sure this is close to what other service suites of free communication products offer as well. But I also think that having some of these things spelled out so plainly invites us to share a collective moment of WTF.
I loved the helpful question, "How do I accept this agreement?"
How, indeed! As it happens, mere use of the services counts as your agreement - conveniently, you don't need to do a thing.
If you don't want to agree, it's easy: Microsoft says you can just not use their stuff.
Which is pretty much what every use agreement says right now - much to the consternation of many users.
And that always works out well for everyone, because everything is black and white online.
Unless it's grey, which seems to be most of the time.