In May, the new Terms of Service, freshly embellished by Microsoft, will allow the company to “revise the content” of a service user if there are suspicions of it violating their Code of Conduct.
That involves a sweeping freedom to police any material created using Microsoft Office for “offensive language”, whatever that means (no list of actual words is provided, therefore making it an arbitrary judgement).
By default, that would include any drafts (calling a typed document a manuscript may seem strange) someone isn’t sharing and is keeping for completion and editing. Private writings, to be specific.
Anything you keep there, from memoirs and journals to fiction, will be, as of May, potentially “revised” (policed) by Microsoft at their discretion in search of forbidden language, even though such documents are, I repeat, private.
If, say, a character you have created uses “offensive language” or “hate speech”, your document just might be flagged by a bot, resulting in someone peering into it and anything else you might’ve written.
No, they are not law enforcement and the only consequence would be the swift termination of your Microsoft account, with its potential ramifications (which could be substantial if OneDrive is the only backup you use for your files, for instance).
Nonetheless, it is downright creepy and too evocative of communism. At least a manuscript written in those days could be physically hidden or destroyed; nowadays that is not the case.
And if anyone is puzzled over people freaking out over this, please note it does not mean those people use racist, xenophobic, homophobic etc language or want to do so in the future. But this is just too creepy.
Not knowing exactly what words they’ll be looking for means they can set any criteria for “offensiveness”.
Whilst engaging in creative writing, the last thing you want to worry about is whether a term you use, either directly or through a character, is flagged by a bot, resulting in the complete invasion of your privacy and termination of your account (without warning and enough time to retrieve any information you might lose, I presume).
Your emails and Skype communications will also be policed. Yes, that is actually coming, pardon the alarmist tone.
Most emails are very private and unless they represent proof of some criminal activity, they should remain as such; it is unacceptable for someone to be scrutinised by a company for the language they use in that context; it would be like doing so for the language used inside their home.
That is somewhat like the Stasi opening up your intimate letters, looking through your journals and manuscripts to check for forbidden words. The feeling is causes is similar – that of being suddenly watched in everything you do and transmit to others.
Whilst I understand the need for restricting language on a public platform, where people interact and can cause or take offence (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc), this is like invading a person’s home; a person’s private space.
Of course, you do have options. Such as Libre Office (which I am now using). And Linux (which I will be using shortly).
We’re all aware surveillance is going on at some level. But this is too much.
It’s not law enforcement looking for potential (actual) threats, but what’s-his-face working for a corporation, behind a computer screen, going through your private material scouring for something to pick on.
I rest my case.
Apparently, the “revision” would have to be prompted by a complaint against you (although if they reserve the right to revise your material anytime they could do it regardless, and your consent would be presumed by continuing to use their services).
But even that leaves room for abuse and vindictiveness.
Let’s say you sent a joke, at any point, containing language deemed unacceptable by Microsoft, to someone you trusted, via email or Skype.
Let’s say the person later becomes angry and vindictive towards you, for completely unrelated reasons. They are now aware of you having broken the code of conduct, even in a minuscule way and in good spirits at the time.
They can now launch a complaint against you and prompt Microsoft to invade your privacy and possibly terminate your account.
So no, this is not a workable plan.
I understand that the comparison to communism may seem exaggerated.
However, in those days, and presumably now in some countries, reporting a person for having used a forbidden term or having expressed a forbidden opinion was sometimes a matter of retaliation for personal issues.
It’s not a far stretch to conclude that this policy would – and will – be used by some to settle personal vendettas.