Microsoft can disable your pirated games and illegal hardware

Updated terms let Microsoft invade your Windows 10 computer in search of counterfeit software

Microsoft’s updated End User Licence Agreement terms and conditions let it disable any counterfeit software or hardware and, if you’re running a Windows 10 computer, you’ve just agreed to them.

Section 7b – or “Updates to the Services or Software, and Changes to These Terms” – of Microsoft’s Services EULA stipulates that it “may automatically check your version of the software and download software update or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorised hardware peripheral devices.”

The list of services covered by the agreement doesn't explicitly include Windows 10. However, it does include your Microsoft account, which is an extensive part of the Windows 10 experience, as well as core features like Cortana – and that implies Redmond can disable any games you’ve pirated or devices you’ve "unlawfully" hacked. Enable Cortana (which pretty much everyone using Windows 10 is going to do) and you're subject to the services agreement.

While it’s incredibly clear what Microsoft means by “counterfeit games”, the wording “unauthorised hardware peripheral devices” is a little hazy. Does this mean Microsoft can now block uncertified PC or illegally modified Xbox One and Xbox 360 controllers? Furthermore, Microsoft’s agreement doesn’t state whether it will also disable other counterfeit software, such as cracked versions of Office or Adobe Photoshop, or if it only cares about pirated Microsoft games.

I’ve reached out to Microsoft for a comment about these unanswered questions and will update you when more information becomes available. (UPDATE: More than five days after we initially published this story and we still haven't heard anything back. If anyone from Microsoft reads this, please get in touch!)

Video-game piracy, or “counterfeit games” as Microsoft puts it, has been a big issue in PC gaming for a long time. Many developers have sought to circumvent it by hard-coding impossible odds into their games, which are only solved by having a purchased activation code on your computer. The same issue is also now becoming prevalent on Android and jailbroken iOS devices. However, under Microsoft’s new Services agreement, Windows 10 Mobile would be able to combat any pirated software a user loads onto their phone – potentially making it an attractive prospect for indie developers scared of having their work stolen.

Interestingly, Microsoft killed off the incredibly unpopular, DRM-heavy Windows Live Games in Windows 10, and opted to support Steam instead. But, with these terms and conditions, Microsoft has managed to do something that's arguably worse, potentially limiting the use of software that doesn't even have DRM on it.

How far can Microsoft push this? Like Expert Reviews, we think it's unlikely that Microsoft actually intends to go after pirated games on the PC. The services agreement was clearly written originally for Xbox and Xbox Live, and when writtten was probably only intended to ever apply to them. However, because Microsoft has simply taken an existing services agreement and applied it to core Windows 10 services such as Cortana means that, intentionally or accidentally, it could be applied to Windows 10. And until Microsoft clarifies things, we think this remains a legal grey area.

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