Microsoft Bans Nudity, 'Offensive Language—Is FOSTA to Blame?

CYBERSPACE—In what may be a response to the supposed anti-sex-trafficking bill, FOSTA, which passed the United States Senate last week, Microsoft has now banned “offensive” language, as well as nudity and porn, from any of its services—which include Microsoft Office, XBox and even Skype.

The broad new ban was quietly inserted into Microsoft’s new “Terms of Service” agreement, which was posted on March 1 and which takes effect on May 1. The new rules also give Microsoft the legal ability to “review” private user content and block or delete anything, including email, that contains “offensive” content or language.

The rules do not define exactly what would constitute “offensive” language.

In theory, the new ban could let Microsoft monitor, for example, private Skype chats, shutting down calls in which either participant is nude or engaged in sexual conduct. 

“So wait a sec: I can’t use Skype to have an adult video call with my girlfriend?  I can’t use OneDrive to back up a document that says ‘fuck’ in it?” asked civil liberties advocate  Jonathan Corbett, in a blog post this week. “If I call someone a mean name in Xbox Live, not only will they cancel my account, but also confiscate any funds I’ve deposited in my account?”

Last week, several online porn performers who use Google Drive to store and distribute their adult content files reported that the service had suddenly and without warning blocked or deleted their files, posing a threat to their income streams.

The new Microsoft “Terms of Service” appear to indicate that the software giant is now poised to do the same thing, acting as a censor to keep not only adult content off of Microsoft services, but even language that some users may find objectionable.

“Offensive language is fairly vague. Offensive to whom?” wondered the tech security news site CSO Online, in an article published Monday. “What my granny might find offensive and what I might find offensive could be vastly different. But how would Microsoft even know if you had truly been 'offensive'”?

Microsoft has not commented publicly on why it instituted the new regulations, but CSO Online speculated that FOSTA, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives just two days before the new term of service went online, may be the motivation.

The FOSTA bill for the first time holds online sites responsible for any activity by users of those sites that could fall under the definition of “sex trafficking.”

The online forum Reddit as well as the popular classified ad site Craigslist have already banned user content which could lend itself even to discussion of prostitution or “sex trafficking.”

“Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services,” a Craigslist spokesperson said, in announcing its blanket ban on personal advertisements. It now appears possible that other online services are applying the same logic in censoring content on their own sites.