Office 365 changes to Microsoft’s Terms and Conditions

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Microsoft is updating the rules which govern use of their services including Office 365, OneDrive, SharePoint, Cortana and Xbox.  Despite what you might have heard, there’s nothing really new or changed, just some clickbait headlines.

There are reasons to be concerned about the Microsoft Terms and Conditions, but they are long-standing worries, nothing about the update.  Microsoft can now read any content you’ve stored in their cloud services (email, documents etc) without your permission.  That’s NOT changing.

Any changes to Microsoft’s Terms and Conditions are important because it’s what the company will rely on in any dispute.  Any public statements or promises from Microsoft or it’s executives mean nothing unless they are in the T&C’s. The changes apply from 1 May 2018.

Take a Breath

These changes have prompted some silly reports, probably as clickbait, that grossly overstate what’s happening.  Headlines suggesting that swearing will be blocked in Word documents or Skype.  Or that videos with bad language will be taken away. is wary of cloud storage and Microsoft (after two decades of experience). But it’s ridiculous to suggest that Microsoft will remove a document or video just because it uses words your mother wouldn’t approve of.

Microsoft could do those things with the existing T&C, let alone the updated ones.  There’s many things Microsoft could do with data stored on their servers because they give themselves broad powers in the T&C.  But they don’t and would be very foolish to do so.

In practice, the ‘veto’ power Microsoft has would only be applied to public or widely shared files which have received a specific complaint.  Much like what’s supposed to happen on Facebook or Twitter.

Offensive Language and Fraudulent Activity

The Code of Conduct section is what you’d expect.  Using Microsoft services for illegal activities isn’t allowed with a list of specific bans including anything that “exploits, harms, or threatens to harm children”.  Terrorist content, hate speech and advocating violence are also specifically mentioned.

What’s new is that the addition of specific bans on “offensive language” and “fraudulent activity” instead of relying on the broad coverage of “anything illegal”.

Does Microsoft check your content?

How does Microsoft know if you’ve posted something not allowed by the Code of Conduct?  According to the T&C’s ….

“Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue.”

Microsoft can check anything you’ve saved in their online services, and would do it, for an ‘issue’.  Most likely raised by law enforcement or a government agency but it could be anyone and for any reason.

Microsoft can also ‘review’ customers’s content on their own instigation.  The company has, in the past, read customers emails to track an internal company leak. After that breach became public, Microsoft promised to setup an ‘external’ review process before a customers private data was searched.  That was never enshrined in the T&C’s and seems to have been quietly dropped once the bad PR had gone away.

As it stands now, Microsoft can use the ‘Code of Conduct’ as an excuse to read any customers data and they don’t have to tell the customer they are doing it.

In addition, there’s the very real handing over of data to government agencies like the US National Security Agency (NSA) which overrides any T&C’s

” However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so. “

Does Microsoft scan cloud stored content on OneDrive, Sway and mailboxes?  It’s hard to believe that Microsoft ‘cannot monitor’ their systems. We’re surprised that the T&C contains such an outright denial because it’s improbable.  More likely, Microsoft could monitor their services, but it would be a mammoth task.

Office 365 for personal use

Many of the consumer products for Office / Office 365 have long been sold on the basis that they are for non-commercial and personal use only.   It’s perhaps the most commonly ignored part of the Office license and almost unenforceable.

Still, Microsoft has decided to add to the T&C a specific notice about this requirement.

” Office Services. Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal, Office 365 University, Office Online, Sway, and any other Office 365 subscription or Office-branded Services are for your personal, noncommercial use, unless you have commercial use rights under a separate agreement with Microsoft.

What might surprise many is that Office Online, the browser based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are for personal, non-commercial use.

That said, it’s not something that should concern anyone with a home based business or who uses their home copy of Office for some work related tasks.  As a practical matter, Microsoft isn’t likely to start checking individual use that closely.  It would not be worth Redmond’s time or cost to pry into individuals use of Microsoft Office. The PR backlash would be enormous.

More likely, they’d act against larger organizations that use Office 365 Home or Office Online as alternatives to paying for volume/enterprise licences.

Microsoft has published a list of the changes.

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