Will Microsoft's New Terms Lead To Email Censorship?

Not that most email marketers use profanity in their copy, but Microsoft has included this policy in its new terms and conditions: Users cannot feature curse words in emails. Nor can they send salacious images.  

It’s not the only rule by a long shot. Email, Skype and SMS users are prohibited from sending viruses, terrorist content, fraudulent matter or anything that would harm children. All that is common sense. But now there’s this proviso:

  • “Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).”

Email professionals are still trying to make sense of that.  

“We don’t have clear indications of a big impact yet,” says one. “We trying to understand why they’re doing it — what’s going on in the background to cause it.”



Mind you, he doesn’t object to the part about the sharing of pornography. 

“I can appreciate that the large service are sensitive to that,” he says. “But the edges of this, about things like profanity, are not as clear to me yet.

He adds: “Standards seem to be evolving.” 

Right. And it’s all in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the word "damn" has been in common usage since Clark Gable uttered it in Gone With the Wind. But very religious people might still object to it. 

Then there’s the word “suck” — not a profane term in itself, but vulgar when used in certain contexts. It even appears in headlines these days. 

Older journalists remember when periodicals would not use four-letter words. If one had to be included — when quoting a rough character, say — they inserted asterisks.

No more: The rise of self-published material on the Internet has moved everyone to the dark side, including reputable journalistic organizations. But there has been a backlash, prompted in part by the MeToo Movement and growing revulsion against pejorative content about women and minorities.

The question remains: Is it Microsoft’s job — or Facebook’s — to control language that some see as obscene and others merely as mildly regrettable? Who gets to decide?

As The Register says, “the new agreement is problematic because it hints at far broader and frankly creepy interventions involving rifling through people's private files, if someone is upset at another user.” 

Here’s what Microsoft says about enforcement:

“If you violate these Terms, we may stop providing Services to you or we may close your Microsoft account. We may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason.

It adds: “When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.”

So there is a resource issue. We’ll see if this ends up being enforced at all.


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