Cloud

Why won’t Microsoft let you store porn in the cloud?

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Cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and SugarSync are quickly changing how consumers deal with content on a day-to-day basis. Being able to access your photos, movies, music, and important documents at any time on any device can help with productivity — or just organizing your life.

It seems like an easy sell: Pay a reasonable monthly fee, and cloud storage will simplify your life.

But while these services promise storage nirvana, each company has its own set of policies and restrictions that determine what you can or cannot store there.

None is more restrictive than Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Check out the first two parts of the Windows Live code of conduct that governs SkyDrive:

You will not upload, post, transmit, transfer, distribute, or facilitate distribution of any content (including text, images, sound, video, data, information or software) or otherwise use the service in a way that:

• depicts nudity of any sort, including full or partial human nudity, or nudity in nonhuman forms such as cartoons, fantasy art or manga.

• incites, advocates, or expresses pornography, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, hatred, bigotry, racism, or gratuitous violence.

The code of conduct is much larger than this, but already this list has some serious issues. From the looks of it, you can’t store nude or partially nude drawings (sorry, Titanic fans and fine art lovers) or your favorite legally purchased adult porn movie. Because Bugs Bunny wears no clothes, I guess he’s off limits, too.

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Note that this applies to anything you upload to your SkyDrive, including private files.

Here’s another issue: SkyDrive is connected to your Microsoft account. If Microsoft suspends your SkyDrive, you also lose access to any connected Outlook or Office software or Windows Phone and Xbox 360 devices. This incredibly strict code of conduct could end up cutting off other services you depend on.

And another problem: Microsoft is pushing you to use SkyDrive in Windows 8 and Office 2013. SkyDrive is deeply embedded into the Windows 8 OS. In the new version of Office, the default for saving files is now SkyDrive instead of your local hard drive. Microsoft is making it incredibly easy to save to the cloud. What happens, though, if I write a story with one too many swear words in Word and save it to SkyDrive?

Windows Phone 7, too, has an option to automatically upload any picture you take to a private folder on your SkyDrive. If you take a bedroom photo of your significant other and your phone uploads it automatically, you are technically violating Microsoft’s policy.

We asked Microsoft about its code of conduct and why the heck its policies are so strict. We asked why so many things weren’t permitted. We wanted to know if we uploaded a gritty short story we wrote that included lots of curse words, would Microsoft suspend that account?

Microsoft wouldn’t play ball. A Microsoft spokesperson refused to answer any specific questions about its policies, instead providing me with this lengthy statement that hardly addresses our concerns:

With 60 million SkyDrive customers in more than 100 countries, Microsoft works hard to keep SkyDrive available around the world as the trusted place for people to store personal data. In order to do this, we’ve built SkyDrive to respect the privacy of our users while also ensuring it is not used for illegal activity – such as the distribution of child pornography. As a general practice, we do not comment on internal processes; however, we have strict internal policies in place to limit access to a user’s data, and we have advanced mechanisms to ensure users abide by our Code of Conduct. For example, we pioneered automated scanning for child pornography through the PhotoDNA project — now used by other industry leaders. Any content we find to be in violation of our Code of Conduct is subject to removal — and in rare cases, can lead to temporary or permanent shutdown of an account. We understand no system is perfect. That’s why we are constantly improving our ability to ensure the privacy, security and availability of our users’ data around the world.

OK, so Microsoft’s scanning SkyDrive for child porn to make sure it doesn’t get shared around the web. We sincerely appreciate that. But why not amend the code of conduct to make it more specific about what’s allowed and not? How does it define “obscenity” and “vulgarity?”

While we’re troubled by Microsoft’s policy, we decided to look at four other top cloud storage providers to see where they stood on the issue of content restrictions. We asked each if its cloud service would allow a user to store legally purchased adult porn without sharing it to others. We figure if you can store adult porn on a service, semi-nude drawings and Bugs Bunny are fine, too.

Check out our findings below.

Box

While Box targets businesses, consumers can easily use the service as well. Part of Box’s strategy is to entice people to use its services through promotions like 50GB storage giveaways to Android and iPhone users and then hope those consumers encourage businesses and teams to use it. So we’re sure there are a fair number of consumer signups, too.

A Box spokesperson said he wasn’t comfortable answering our questions about storing porn in Box, but he did point us to this part of the company’s terms of service:

You may not use Box in any way that violates applicable federal, state, or international law, or for any unlawful purpose.

He said as long as someone does not violate the law in any way, including the DMCA, a customer will generally have no problems from Box.

Dropbox

Dropbox also refused to answer our questions directly, but the company did direct us to its terms of service, DMCA policy, and acceptable use policy. The policy does not mention any content restrictions (such as porn or nude drawings) besides telling you not to break the law in any way.

Google Drive

Google Drive‘s policies aren’t as ridiculous as Microsoft’s, but the company does have a lot of restrictions on content. Google has rules against “publishing” (read: sharing) content that includes sexually explicit material, bullying, violence, and more.

Google would neither confirm nor deny if a user of its Drive service could upload legally obtained porn to the cloud, even if it was just for personal use. A Google spokesperson told us the following:

We work hard to curb abuses that threaten our ability to provide services like Google Drive, and we ask that everyone abide by the policies to help us achieve this goal. That said, a user’s private content is private. This means that unless a user publishes content that could be reported by another user for violation of our Abuse Program Policies, we would have no reason to investigate or take action against a particular account.

Basically, without admitting it in full, Google is saying you’re usually fine to store adult content in Drive as long as you don’t share your favorite Jenna Jameson joint with your friends.

Another note on Google: Like Microsoft, it’s easy to be connected to several Google services through a single account. If you were to upload and store something Google didn’t like, you’d have to worry about losing access to Gmail and other services.

SugarSync

SugarSync was by far the most forthcoming in answering our questions. Like many other services, it also doesn’t have any specific content restrictions, as long as you’re being lawful.

Robb Henshaw, the director of corporate communications at SugarSync, told us:

There are no restrictions on what can be uploaded and stored on SugarSync account for your own personal use. However, if you use SugarSync to share/distribute obscene content in a way that violates our Terms of Use, we do reserve the right to disable your account.

Wrap up

From our research, Microsoft appears to be the most restrictive cloud storage provider on the market. Its policy concerning what can or cannot be stored in SkyDrive is outrageous in its rigidness. We appreciate the company is trying to deter criminals, but it also doesn’t allow “profanity.” Are you kidding me?

The other four companies we spoke to appear to allow you to store whatever content you want as long as you legally obtained it, it doesn’t violate the DMCA or other laws, and as long as you’re not publicly sharing obscene content.

Boiling it down further, Dropbox and SugarSync seem to be the two best consumer options for storing content without worrying about Big Brother snooping on your account or disabling it for questionable content. Box is more ideal for business use, and Google’s policies still have more restrictions than we’d like.

h/t The Compass Project

Nearly naked romantic couple photo via Shutterstock.

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