Microsoft Can Disable Pirated First-Party Games

Microsoft can disable “counterfeit games” and “unauthorized hardware peripheral devices” according to the recently updated Microsoft Services Agreement. The agreement, which pertains to the Windows store, suggests they can detect pirated first-party XBox and Windows games you have installed.

The change came into effect on August 1st, as reported by Wired and spotted by Alphr. The relevant part is Section 7b, “Updates to the Services or Software, and Changes to These Terms”, which states:

“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 unauthorized hardware peripheral devices. You may also be required to update the software to continue using the Services. Such updates are subject to these Terms unless other terms accompany the updates, in which case, those other terms apply. Microsoft isn’t obligated to make any updates available and we don’t guarantee that we will support the version of the system for which you licensed the software.”

It’s not clear what “unauthorized hardware peripheral devices” refers to, but “counterfeit games” means any first-party Microsoft published game. The service agreement wouldn’t cover Steam games or any other third-party desktop software, so there’s no reason to think they know about that illicit copy of Adobe Photoshop you’re harboring. The information is interesting amid other privacy concerns related to Windows 10, however.

Note: This story has been updated to correct which services the EULA relates to.

81 Comments

  1. The_invalid says:

    This isn’t relevant to Windows – It’s the service agreement for the Windows Store and Xbox. So basically, it’s the same sort of DRM that Steam implements. Nothing to see here, honestly. As far as I can tell, ‘unauthorised hardware peripherals’ would refer to, say, a hacked XB1.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Have amended the story to try to clarify – thanks.

    • RobF says:

      The service agreement covers a lot more than just the store and Xbox, so that’s a bit unfair. There’s a list of services on MS’ site that this agreement covers and it’s everything from Office to Cortana to Microsoft Accounts. I’m fairly sure the intention *is* to cover the Windows store and that alone right now but the wording is vague enough, the amount of services that fall under the banner for the agreement and their integration into windows so fuzzy and so on means that it’s still worth flagging up as a concern.

      Given that the aim is to transition to Windows as a service -as a whole-, it’s kinda good to try and nip any potential overreach in the bud, surely?

      (and “everybody else is on a data grab” doesn’t excuse another data grab etc…)

      • The_invalid says:

        No, there’s a fairly large semantic difference here. The way that almost every news outlet has reported this is that Microsoft granted themselves the ability to snoop on your filesystem to root out cracked programs – this is simply not true.

        While you’re correct that the agreement covers significant ground in terms of what Microsoft deems services, nearly all of those services are apps and extensions that are updated and maintained via the Windows Store, much the same as Apple and Google are already doing with App Store and Google Play.

        In layman’s terms, all this means is that Microsoft reserve the right to circumvent your software crack if you attempt to update the relevant app through the Windows Store. This is absolutely standard practice in most software distribution platforms, and has been standard practice in incremental patching in videogames for decades.

        • RobF says:

          But they also haven’t limited their ability to do this only to the store. This is my point. Whilst some of the reporting may be a little on the more paranoid end of the scale, it’s equally untrue to suggest that this is only about Xbox or the Windows store when the services it covers are so expansive and most come shipped at OS level. That many are handled “through the store” is a technicality really. If these services were optional updates or installs, we’d be having a different discussion. They’re not though, they come with Windows 10 itself so it warrants caution and analysis.

          “Nearly all” isn’t good enough, y’know?

        • Premium User Badge

          Don Reba says:

          The way that almost every news outlet has reported this is that Microsoft granted themselves the ability to snoop on your filesystem to root out cracked programs – this is simply not true.

          But it has! Just with a different clause.

          Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: […] protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services.

  2. Sian says:

    My upgrade’s been ready for a few days now, but I’ve been holding off. And this may be another good reason to keep doing so. I don’t pirate games, but this feels like another invasion into my privacy and that makes me queasy.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      It’s just doing exactly what Valve and Origin do. Its legalese for auto updates and that is not Microsoft’s fault if the update breaks your pirated copy of the game.

      • Sian says:

        Luckily, I’ve never started using Origin and am moving further away from Steam every chance I get.

        That said, my comment was written before the first comment popped up. Now that I know that it’s not Windows itself but the store that potentially meddles with my stuff, I’m curious how strongly the store is integrated into the OS. Can it be disabled, I wonder?

        • mattevansc3 says:

          The store just deals with universal apps. You can’t uninstall it as manages the preinstalled universal apps such as music, video, mail, etc.

        • Scelous says:

          Luckily… because you pirate games? I’m not sure how it would bother you if you didn’t pirate games.

          • Sian says:

            As I said, I don’t pirate games. Back in the day when EA introduced it, its ToS also indicated that it was way more intrusive than I was comfortable with, so I decided not to buy any games that needed it. And ever since then, not a single game that has had me interested enough to even bother.
            Origin and Steam were used as examples of services with similar language in their ToS, but since I don’t use one and am removing myself from the other, LUCKILY that argument had little effect on my first comment.

          • jrodman says:

            “You obviously shouldn’t care about invasions of privacy unless you have something to hide, citizen.”

          • SaintAn says:

            Well using your brain would help with that.

          • Delicieuxz says:

            What if you mod your games (which can include the exe)?

      • PancakeWizard says:

        I don’t take issue with this at all, but everything else about Windows 10 (that seems to be generating heat on an almost daily basis), is another matter.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          You’ve got to take the Win10 news with a HUGE pinch of salt. Just re-read the RPS review where they specifically state on quite a few occasions that they will continue to use Google’s services as a preference yet the very next article is a hysterical approach to how Microsoft invades your privacy. Microsoft allows you to opt out of having your emails scanned so they can do targetted ads. Google does not.

          A lot of the recent Microsoft news has been written like the rest of the industry doesn’t exist. Just look at this news piece. This isn’t news, this is how the industry has operated for years.

          • Premium User Badge

            Graham Smith says:

            I think it’s an issue of communication. The usage tracking that Google do, and the rest of the internet does, has grown and expanded along with the internet at large. There has been plenty of criticism of it but people have become used to it or at least come to expect it.

            Not so with operating systems. It’s not something we expect that level of our computers, and Microsoft did not do a good job explaining what they would be doing or where those privacy settings were, pre-launch.

            As for our coverage: our review of Windows 10 was broadly positive on a number of fronts, and our post about security concerns made the point that this was common industry practice a number of times, made the point I just made above, and then did what Microsoft hadn’t by explaining how users could adjust their privacy settings. This seems like the public service sites like RPS should be providing.

          • Premium User Badge

            edna says:

            Thanks Graham (though I don’t seem to be able to respond to your post directly). I appreciate the efforts you go to in order to provide balanced information. As is often the case, I think that a lot of people could learn from reading Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. We all struggle with accepting information that doesn’t immediately agree with what we believe to be true, regardless of how that information is actually provided.

          • jrodman says:

            I’d also say that there are reasonable measures that you can use to take back a modicum of privacy on the internet. You can use simple measures like NoScript or Privacy Badger, or you can decide you care a lot and use the TOR Browser.

            Yes, many people use google services in a way that gives over a lot of privacy and users may not be fully aware, but the option to take control back is there.

            When your computer operating itself decides to get in on the act, your options are drastically diminished. Your choices at that point are restricted to the existence of utility software that modifies the behavior of the operating system (I forsee a market for this actually, niche as it may be), or changing operating systems entirely. Both of these are likely to be beyond the reach of most users.

            That’s why I feel it’s a different scenario, and not overly similar to prior privacy problems, though they are comparable.

    • Premium User Badge

      steves says:

      This may help:

      link to github.com

      I would recommend reading what each batch file does – losing the ability to have your XBox account or run store apps might not be something you want.

  3. Zanchito says:

    I wish I could disable corrupt laws and companies.

    • James says:

      Win 10’s privacy intrusion is all kinds of illegal – no corrupt laws, just a total lack of enforcement.

      • InTheMorning33 says:

        Care to expound on how anything MS is doing in Windows 10 is illegal?

        • Xzi says:

          None of it is, but that’s the worst part about it. That said, disabling all of the settings which are intrusive to your privacy in Windows 10 isn’t very difficult.

          • gwathdring says:

            They’re super cagey about the effectiveness of many of those tools and settings, however.

            For example, disabling WiFi Sense can still leave a few days before Microsoft decides to stop collecting your wireless network’s security credential. They have some cagey language in their, too, that essentially “allows” them to collect any data they want whenever they want it.

          • schlusenbach says:

            You can disable privacy intruding services, but Win10 still phones home.

          • jrodman says:

            In general, I don’t trust settings on software that say things like “[x] disable privacy intrusion?”.

            My thinking is the company is already showing that they don’t care about your privacy and are willing to trample it by default. How much effort do you think they are going to spend on being sure that this type of setting covers all reasonable cases? How much Quality Assurance time is going to be spent on ensuring that this type of option doesn’t fail? Given the endemic nature of software error, you have to presume that the code may accidentally do all its privacy trampling anyway by accident.

            The only safety that MAY exist is in buying and using products where the expected user base will respond very poorly to actual privacy tramelling, or in avoiding vendors entirely who behave this way.

            Sadly, populations who actually care about privacy invasion are relatively small. Corporate customers will frequently pay the issue lip service but not dig deeply into the matter. Vendors who actually chart a course of not tramelling the rights of their customers are becoming rather thin on the ground.

        • aepervius says:

          You can start with EU data law protection, and right of rectification. I am pretty sure burying in an EULA that you will get user’s data and not give an accessible and reachable (e.g. not in the basement behind the “beware the tiger door”) rectification or deletion process is all kind of illegals.

  4. gorgonaut says:

    It is interesting, and more than a little disappointing, to see the direction in which MS has taken Windows. I fear Windows 7 was the last, great standalone OS, with minimal meddling (and I’m using the word here in both the modern and archaic form) from the manufacturer.

    I find myself distrusting my installed OS, not using it for anything other than “legitimate” purposes, lest it ring some bell or raise a some flag. Paranoid? You bet, even though I realize my insignificance.

    The problem is that these reports, this tracking and disabling features might be used by oppressive regimes, silently dissuading people (or worse) from “unauthorised” uses. You know what I mean.

    Also, principles.

    • JFS says:

      I don’t think the NSA really needs Win10 to help out. They did just fine so far, thanks very much.

      But yeah, you’re right, there is no need to voluntarily let them in.

    • gwathdring says:

      The above language pertains to Xbox games and Windows Store software. I agree in general, but this isn’t really any different than Steam, Origin, et al.

  5. crowleyhammer says:

    It’s great seeing every pc based website shit themselves with the same misinformation, the 1st comment always being “no its windows store and xbox” and the rest slagging microsoft off.

    • The_invalid says:

      Glad to be of service on at least one part of that :P

    • Jinoru says:

      This article is so late coming you’d think they would have fact checked.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      Absolutely.
      We rely on sites that don’t tow the line to point out when the giants are up to no good. This kind of FUD just undercuts that trust.

  6. DarkLiberator says:

    What is “unauthorized hardware”? Like clones of 360 controller that Microsoft doesn’t want on their OS?

    Also, does this Microsoft Service Agreement actually apply to Windows 10 itself? Reading through it, at the bottom it doesn’t even mention Windows 10, just the massive list of Microsoft services.

    Not that I trust Microsoft, I have no doubt they’re probably stealing my info.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Its a general policy covering all services and in that regard unauthorised hardware likely refers to chipped Xbox’s

      • hotmaildidntwork says:

        I feel like that’s being naive. They would almost certainly include chipped x-boxes. Someone may well have created that part of the contract with chipped x-boxes in mind. But it seems to me that by failing to properly define it they allow themselves the legal wriggle room to interpret it as applying to anything that they want.

        Or in brief, unless they’ve defined “unauthorized hardware” elsewhere in the contract, the definition is “whatever we decide is unauthorized”.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          Its hardware that is unauthorised to access Microsoft’s services. Any device that has a Windows licence is authorised to use their services. Any non-Windows hardware that Microsoft has released its software/services for is authorised to use that software/services. PC peripherals don’t access Microsoft’s services or there is no real reason for them to do so. If they do need to access Microsoft’s services (Outlook, OneDrive, The Windows Store, etc.) then really they should have got it authorised.

          There are so many avenues to have hardware “authorised” there will be very few cases of “legitimate” unauthorised hardware.

  7. Cinek says:

    Still a happy Windows 7 user here.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      A happy former Windows 7-user here. I upgraded right away (forced it to install right away, so that I could run it for a week to check it out before installing it on my parents’ computer while visiting them on my summer holiday).

      Some settings are harder to find since the replacement for Control Panel is a bit messed up. (Part of it is updated, but other bits are the old control panel bits hanging around looking the way they’ve always been.) But Windows has never been big on consistency, so it’s still good.

      If you want to try it out for yourself, know that it can be reverted to the Windows you had before the upgrade if you want. (Not by formatting the disk – there’s an actual function in the OS install.)

      Yeah, I’m happy with it, and hope that many will upgrade so that devs can take advantage of the OS, such as DX12.

  8. DarkFenix says:

    I’m already hearing stories of perfectly legitimate software being uninstalled by Windows 10.

    It’s funny, I thought the whole idea of offering free Windows 10 was that they want everyone to upgrade to it. Yet here Microsoft are bundling in bits that’ll make people say “fuck that, I’ll stick to what I’ve got”, which incidentally is my current take on 10, I think I’m happier sticking with 7.

    • pepperfez says:

      You’ll notice this change came well after Win10 became available to install.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      I’ve not seen any stories like that on the tech blogs.

      It is common for some pieces of software to not carry over during an OS update bit that’s just the process being not perfect.

    • Diziet Sma says:

      Can you link to them?

      I’ve had a whole swathe of software vanish from my start menu yes… but none of it was uninstalled. It’s all still there and runs just fine but it’s no longer visible AT ALL in the menu. Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom (legitimate), Fraps (licensed), qBittorrent, Paint.net, Office, Gog Galaxy and all sorts vanished totally. Ended up with shortcuts on the desktop or pinned to taskbar until I can find out how to put them back. :/ They also don’t show up in any searches… but the software is still there… navigate in explorer to the install location, run the .exe and poof pin it to taskbar. Really bizarre.

      There’s so much poor reporting about Windows 10 it’s getting a little annoying. It’d be nice if sites could focus on the things it’s getting wrong and not the imagined ones. :/ Or at least read carefully before reporting.

    • Duckeenie says:

      Oh! you brought anecdotal evidence.

      • DarkFenix says:

        Oh! You brought a snide comment. Take it somewhere else next time.

        • Asurmen says:

          It’s snide to point out a flaw in your comment, that all you have is unverified 3rd party info to go on?

  9. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Hm, software like Steam already scans your pc for everything installed and whatelse. And at microsoft they always did whatever they could to disable your pirated stuff. And rightly so as pirating is like theft.
    Of course Windows turning into a smartphone OS means it assumes smartphone standard privacy meaning next to none.

    The problem with Windows 10 is not with privacy – it’s next to not usable for working or business and only contains Bling-Bling.
    Everything runs of Bing (useless), is designed around syncing (Android-User), Cortana -non-english- is useless and the language is locked.
    Even the shutdown is burried in the menu like it’s on a smartphone.
    The lockscreen has to be slid awkwardly as if it’s on a phone.
    Control panels are spread in old and new panels with different designs. Remote admin tools not available.
    Could go on and on – this product was clearly designed by the guys from marketing for kids and juveniles.
    Oh one thing: after decades you can finally ctrl-v into the shell -now that’s a useful feature.

    • Asurmen says:

      Nothing relevant is done by Bing, nor is the OS designed around syncing and shut down is certainly not buried.

      The rest is more less meh whatever except settings being spread over two locations but I knew about that in advance and adapted. Not good for those who didn’t know before upgrading.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        I wouldn’t bother, they’ve described Windows 8 not Windows 10 so its clearly someone who hasn’t used it.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        Designed around syncing = has Metro design built in anywhere, is meant to be used with the shop and MS account.

        Shutdown button: Windows 7 start right right enter
        Windows 10 start up up enter up up enter
        Bing is standard in Edge, Cortana and whatever MS apps.
        -of course I can install all I want…

        Nitpicks if you want.
        I got it on 2 devices I heavily use at the moment and I guess noone can dispute the “no improvement”-part. Looks like a lightly modded 8.1 which was basically 7 +ModernUI.

        • Press X to Gary Busey says:

          Or you could just press the physical power button on your computer.

        • Asurmen says:

          By nitpicks, you mean pointing out where you’re exaggerating? It’s not designed around syncing, shut down isn’t hidden and oh no Bing, owned By Microsoft is the default search on a Microsoft product.

          It’s faster and more secure and eventually DX12. You say no improvement, I say no drawbacks so why not?

          Obviously it’s subjective though.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          So as a “business” user you don’t have access to a mouse or touchpad?

          There’s no point in saying keyboard commands for a mouse driven interface. The Win7 power button is in the Start Menu. The Win 10 power button is on the start menu. They are both the same number of mouse clicks.

          The lock screen doesn’t need to be swiped, a left click on the mouse, a tap on a touch pad or even using a key on the keyboard takes you to the password screen. Just like Win7

          Bing was the default search engine in Win7 and Win8 and can be changed in Edge just as easily.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      You can use your favourite browser with whatever search engine want.
      Cortana is useless no matter the language but it doesn’t make the OS any worse.
      There is a “Power” button right in the Start menu with the familiar power symbol next to it.
      The lock screen does not need to be slid, just clicked.
      Control panels are a mess — that part is fair.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      It’s one thing to criticise the OS, it’s another entirely to include that much FUD in one single comment.

  10. geldonyetich says:

    Microsoft valiant efforts at providing OS support for DRM may well provide a piracy free world for all of the 35 seconds required for the pirate scene on the Internet to hack it out.

  11. XhomeB says:

    Speaking of Win10 – any truth to the reports that it’s – allegedly – a resource hog, or that there’s a severe, yet to be fixed memory leak this OS suffers from?
    Win8 might have had a terrible interface, but it was overall a great OS – slick, responsive and fast, even compared to the already solid Win7. I was hoping Win10 would be even better in this regard, apparently not…

    • PikaBot says:

      I haven’t noticed any performance issues, except that the initial upgrade installation broke explorer for me so that doing much of anything caused it to lag out and crash. Doing a clean install fixed that completely, though, and I haven’t had any problems since.

      In terms of resource demands and speed, it doesn’t seem noticably worse than the 8.1 installation which preceded it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Some of the betas leaked tens of gigabytes a day, but it should be better than 8 now.

    • Xzi says:

      I’m pretty sure I would have run in to some crashes by now if there were any memory leaks…the 2-in-1 I have it installed on only has 2GB of RAM and a 1.4GHz quad-core. It actually runs quite a bit faster on Win10 than it did on Win8.1, though, and the regular desktop interface is great with touch. No complaints.

      • Geebs says:

        I upgraded a copy of Windows 8.1 *ptooie* . 10 runs much better both natively and in a VM limited to 4 Gb of RAM than 8 ever did.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I upgraded from 7, and it feels faster.

  12. thelastdonut says:

    Its kind of sad that I breathe a sigh of relief when I saw it only applied to games. I don’t pirate much but theres probably a copy of Rosetta Stone installed somewhere I need to revisit. Its probably only a matter of time until they push for this to apply to 3rd party apps…and then a new bypass is created.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Its just an auto-updater. Its not looking for pirated software it’s just looking for Win10 apps and updates them to the latest version. Its the update that disables the pirated software not the Windows Store or OS.

  13. seroto9 says:

    How did you know about my pirated version of Photoshop? I know you can get a lot from Universal Analytics, but that’s ridiculous.

  14. Xzi says:

    This really isn’t a big deal even for pirates if it truly only applies to first-party Microsoft games. Most of those are either terrible or still have GFWL attached, either of which is a good reason to avoid bothering with installing them, pirated copy or no.

  15. Thirdrail says:

    Step 1: Create a system that checks for and disables pirated first party software.
    Step 2: Offer third parties a way to buy into this service, so the system checks for pirated versions of their software too.
    Step 3: Congratulations, you are now the arms dealer for the Copyright War. You win billions of dollars.

    • The_invalid says:

      Yes, I can see the Windows Store becoming a resounding success already.

      /sarcasm

  16. malkav11 says:

    Meh. They already theoretically stop pirated Windows installs from receiving updates, and regularly update the check to make sure you’re on genuine paid-for Windows. Know how many pirated copies of Windows still quite easily update themselves? Pretty much all of them.

    Mostly I’m worried about false positives.

  17. racccoon says:

    To be honest pirated games died many many moons ago, it was fun while it lasted, but today this is not a real biggy as all games today are reasonable priced due to the market being so dam big, and in any case any older games are so dam CHEAP NOW! that you really don’t deserve a computer to pirate games anymore in 2015.

  18. xyzzy frobozz says:

    Good.

    I’m sick of subsidising arseholes who steal.

    I’ll be even more pleased when Microsoft find a way to ruin their computers and send foul stenches through their headphones.