Pirate MEP: Microsoft's walled garden is no consumer pleasure park

Redmond hijacks control over what users can and can't do with their own PCs

A garden gnome depicted stretched out across picnic table... with a pipe in one hand while the other props him up. Has a confrontational look in his eye...

Microsoft is trying to create its own “walled garden”, much to the detriment of consumers, Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has told El Reg.

Reda was referring to the new unified Microsoft services policy, which came into force at the beginning of this month and covers almost all of the tech goliath’s consumer services.

In it, Microsoft says: “We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorised hardware peripheral devices.”

In other words, we’ll block any pirated games or unapproved hardware as and when we feel like it.

This is not entirely new – under Microsoft’s Xbox terms of use, the company reserves the right to download software “directly to your Authorised Device, including software that prevents you from accessing the services, playing pirated games, or using unauthorised hardware peripheral devices".

But Reda sees the extension of this to all other Microsoft services – including Bing, Cortana, OneDrive, Outlook.com, Skype and Xbox Live – as part of a larger trend of “technology companies building walled gardens”, with legal restrictions such as terms of use, Digital Rights Management or Secure Boot.

“Users are getting accustomed to an idea that – as in other consumer electronics like gaming consoles or smartphones – they do not have full control over what their computers can and cannot do. The great thing about general-purpose computers is that they can be programmed to perform any task we want them to. This feature is what makes computers a tool for empowerment,” she said.

Microsoft billed the changes to the policy as a boon for consumers back when they were revealed in June. Microsoft deputy general counsel Horacio Gutiérrez said in a blog post that the Microsoft Services Agreement would “bring together a number of previously separate – and often repetitive – documents to make it easier for customers to find and understand the information. Instead of agreeing to separate terms and statements for each service, customers who use more than one Microsoft service will be able to accept once for multiple services and review one privacy statement”.

He added that the new T&Cs “respect individual privacy and don’t require a law degree to read”.

“While these policies may be ostensibly aimed at security or anti-counterfeiting, their result is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to buy computers that they can completely control and modify for their own purposes,” argued Reda.

Of course the new agreement does not mean that Microsoft is going to block peripherals left, right and centre in the near future, but it has left the door open to do so.

We asked Microsoft to detail how it plans to enforce the new T&Cs but the request was directed to HQ in Redmond, so we await their response. ®


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