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What Is This Site About?

This site was originally set up to give public awareness of certain policies established by Microsoft around the use of its online stores and services.

As of October 2012, Microsoft rectified the issue, and this site is now kept online for historical purposes

These policies didn’t allow consumers to change their country of residence in their service accounts. This used to cause a great amount of distress for consumers who relocate to another country or region following the creation of their service account. In addition, for citizens of the European Union, it raises the question of whether Microsoft was in contravention of European Law by the exercise of these policies.

As a result, we petitioned Microsoft to change its policies, to satisfy both consumers, and EU regulations.

The Background

Microsoft’s Windows Live ID (also to be known as Microsoft Account in Windows 8) is the online identity authorisation service used when consumers access any of the following Microsoft services and web sites:

  • Xbox LIVE
  • Zune
  • Hotmail
  • MSN
  • Messenger
  • Find My Phone (for Windows Phone)
  • SkyDrive

Microsoft also has a number of different online stores for the digital distribution of software applications, music, games and movies. These include:

  • Zune Marketplace – for music, movies and (currently) apps and games for Windows Phone
  • Xbox Live – for games
  • Windows Store – the forthcoming online store for Windows 8 applications, and likely also to become the store for Windows Phone apps and games.

All of these stores use the Windows Live ID service to identify consumers and authorise their access to the stores. The stores also share a common backend infrastructure for billing of the consumer. Every consumer who creates an account ends up creating a service account in this infrastructure. This service account is uniquely linked to the Windows Live ID used by the consumer at the time of the account’s creation. This account can be managed by the consumer via the Microsoft Your Account web site.

The Issue

Prior to October 2012, there was an issue with this backend infrastructure: once you have registered a country of residence in your service account, neither you nor Microsoft could change it.

In addition, if you registered a credit card to pay for store purchases, the card must had a country billing address that matched the one registered in the account.

In other words, this infrastructure refused to recognise the simple fact that many people move around and relocate to different countries.

The Details

When signing up for specific Microsoft products and services, such as Xbox Live and Windows Phone, consumers are prompted to provide their Windows Live ID. Before October 2012, the service/product in question will link the service account permanently to a given country/region specified by the consumer (normally the consumer’s current country/region of residence). In order to pay for products and services such as subscriptions (e.g.: Zune Pass, Xbox Live Gold memberships) or goods (e.g.: Xbox, Zune or Windows Phone Marketplace goods such as games and add-ons, Windows Phone apps and games, or digital music) consumers would have to provide a payment card from the country/region bound to their account. For example, if you were a resident of France, you could only use a payment card from France.

The problem arises when consumers relocate to another country, which is quite common within the EU/EEA area. There are two main issues:

Difficulties in payment

Since consumers could’t specify another country/region as billing address for payment cards other than the country/region they specified upon creating their account, consumers that no longer hold a credit/debit card within the original country would find it difficult to purchase goods or services in their account.

Some consumers strived to circumvent the hurdles of not being able to use a payment card from their current country/region of residence by using PrePaid cards issued in the country/region where their billing information is bound to. However this method was not a guaranteed success, as Microsoft states that “prepaid cards are not supported”.

Regional content issues

Since accounts were bound to the country/region consumers specified when creating their accounts, they might miss content specific to their area, such as movies, music, games and promotions.

Moreover, as they are not in the originally specified country/region from the time they created their account, the service might block access to that content, at the same time denying access to the content from the country/region where the consumer is now residing.

For example:

John created his Xbox Live account whilst he was living in France. Now John is back in the UK, but since his Xbox Live account is bound to France, he doesn’t have access to content such as Sky TV (which is exclusive to UK consumers). Technically John should have access to the TV content provided in Xbox for the French market, but since he is in the UK, Xbox Live blocks his access to the content by pinpointing his location through his IP address.

Because some Microsoft services tend to share the same infrastructure, consumers can find that their account for a given Microsoft service is already bound to a country/region before they were even made aware of that product or service in question.

For example:

John is back in the UK after living for two years in France and has recently bought a Windows Phone. When setting up his Windows Phone, it asked him for his Windows Live ID. After logging in he noticed that his Xbox Live profile (i.e.: “Gamer Tag”) is the one he created from the time he was living in France. His account is bound to the French Windows Phone marketplace and he can only buy applications available in France, and he can only use a French payment. John isn’t happy.

What Is Microsoft’s Response?

Microsoft says this issue exists because of licensing restrictions imposed on them by copyright holders; e.g. for Zune media, such as music and movies, that can only be licensed in certain countries. It is therefore not permitted for consumers to be able to change their country of residence.

They recommend consumers create a new Windows Live ID and use it to create a new service account to work around this limitation. You cannot delete your existing account without first also deleting your Windows Live ID. So it is not possible to delete your existing service account, and create a new one using your existing Windows Live ID.

There are two points to be made here. First, this workaround seems to be in contradiction of Microsoft’s own Terms of Use for these services. Secondly, this workaround is also unsatisfactory for consumers.

Terms of Use Contradictions

Reading the Xbox Live Terms of Use (which also cover the Zune Marketplace and Windows Phone) gives the following examples:

Section 6.2 (Your Billing Account) states, in part:

“You agree to keep your billing account information current at all times.”

Except you can’t. Consumers who have relocated cannot change their country of residence to make it current.

Section 8 (Available Content) states, in part:

“Your ability to access the Service and obtain certain content is restricted to your Territory. If you change your account to a different Territory, you may not be able to re-download or re-stream content that was available to you in your previous Territory. You may be required to purchase and pay for content in your new Territory even though you have already paid for that content in the previous Territory.”

Except you can’t “change your account to a different Territory”. Consumers who have relocated must create a new account and a new Windows Live ID. They cannot change their existing account.

Nowhere in the Terms of Use does Microsoft actually state that the country of residence cannot be changed in the consumer’s service account. In fact, as shown above, the Terms of Use implies that it can be changed. Consumers will be unaware that there is an issue until they relocate and then get a nasty shock.

The Workaround is Unsatisfactory for Consumers

The Windows Live ID is in practice the consumer’s personal identity on the web for Microsoft products and services, as well as for other products and services that make use of it. A Windows Live ID can have a lot of information associated to it, which consumers are not willing to dismiss by creating a new ID and deleting the old one. Examples of the information include:

  • Game achievements, personal profile
  • Participation in Microsoft forums (including achievements earned for participating)
  • Access to Microsoft TechNet and MSDN
  • Microsoft Certification programme
  • Microsoft Partner Network
  • Other Microsoft online services
  • Digital rights and licenses associated to the account (digital content such as music, games, apps and other software acquired through a Microsoft marketplace such as Xbox Live or Windows Phone)

Creating a new Windows Live ID means that a consumer will have to keep switching between identities to access different content. Besides being a nuisance for consumers having to remember multiple identity details, this can also become a security issue for them.

Moreover, a service or product might benefit the consumer from information that it can’t find because it is contained in another of the consumer’s services accessed by a different Windows Live ID.

Meanwhile, the original service account lives on, and this now holds inaccurate data. Only if the consumer deletes their original Windows Live ID will the linked service account in the store infrastructure eventually be deleted.

However, consumers are very unwilling to delete their existing Windows Live ID, since it is the key to accessing more than just the online stores. All the information that’s important to them is under that existing Windows Live ID. It is the key to their online identity in social networks. Consumers will no longer be able to control this information, nor maintain their identity, if their old Windows Live ID is deleted.

So consumers end up with multiple identities, and having to juggle information between them, because of this issue with the backend infrastructure and the service account.

It is about to get worse

With the upcoming release of Windows 8, Windows Live ID will be streamlined within the operating system, providing users with a pervasive experience. This will make it even more difficult for users (if not completely impractical) to switch between different accounts. Also with Visual Studio 11 users will require a developer license to be able do develop new Metro-based applications, and a Store account to publish applications in the marketplace; both will be tied to a Windows Live ID.

Implications for EU Citizens

There are a couple of additional implications that are relevant to consumers who are EU citizens.

The first is that this inability for the consumer, or even Microsoft apparently, to be able to change the country of residence in the service account would seem to be a contravention of European Directive 95/46/EC, Article 12(b), which states:

“Member States shall guarantee every data subject (that’s the EU consumer) the right to obtain from the controller (that’s Microsoft): as appropriate the rectification, erasure or blocking of data the processing of which does not comply with the provisions of this Directive, in particular because of the incomplete or inaccurate nature of the data“ (our emphases)

So long as the account exists, it will contain inaccurate data – the country of residence – and therefore it does not comply with the provisions of the Directive.

Secondly, it could be argued that this issue is infringing the rights of EU consumers to the free movement of goods and services within the EU.

Asking for Change: We need you!

Since Microsoft refuses to give consumers the ability to correct inaccurate data in their account, we ask Microsoft to give consideration to introducing the ability to delete the service account without having to also delete their Windows Live ID. That way, consumers could preserve their Windows Live ID and start with a new service account with the correct country of residence. It would also have the effect of bringing Microsoft back into compliance with the provisions of EU Directive 95/46/EC.

Microsoft points out that in deleting the service account, consumers will lose the right to use licensed content that they have purchased in the original country. Many users would take this to be an acceptable compromise, since access to the rest of the consumer’s content (generated and owned by the consumer directly) is preserved.

However, it seems to us that a solution from Microsoft to this issue could potentially have three levels of ascending capability:

  • The minimum that Microsoft delivers would be the capability to delete a service account and start afresh. Yes, this would mean that consumers would lose their current Xbox Live and Zune profiles, game achievements and content, but at least their service account would now contain accurate data. Other data connected to their Windows Live ID would also remain intact, such as their Contacts, Calendars and emails. This minimum capability is what we are petitioning Microsoft to deliver, to abide by EU Directives.
  • The second level, which Microsoft should also be able to deliver, would be the ability to transfer the consumer’s Xbox Live/Zune profile, friends and game achievements to the new account. None of this data is subject to third-party licensing as far as we are aware, and therefore there is no barrier to Microsoft implementing this.
  • The third level, which could be achievable, would be the ability to transfer some licensed content to the new account, in addition to the consumer’s profile, friends and game achievements. Certainly this depends on agreements between Microsoft and third party licensers, but as a minimum, we should surely be able to expect Microsoft to be able to transfer licensed content for which they are themselves the owners (e.g. certain Xbox Live games).

We will just note that, in the past, Microsoft has delivered this third level solution, albeit for a limited number of countries and for a limited time. The point is, it can be done.

For information on what you can do to help, see our Get Involved page.

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