Saturday 30 May 2015

Legalised theft

I've used the phrase "legalised theft" a few times talking about Microsoft's policy of currency conversion that moved their digital stores from MSP (Microsoft Points) to local currency balances/credit.
Any Microsoft Points that you had remaining in your Microsoft account have been retired, and we’ve added to your Microsoft account an amount in your local currency equal to or greater than the Xbox stores’ value of your Microsoft Points. This value we added is promotional and will remain in your Microsoft account until 1 June 2015. However, the currency you purchase and add to your account will not expire.
You cannot, for a single moment, believe that last line. Adding credit to your current MS account will provide absolutely no guarantee that the currency you purchase and add to your account will not expire. We know this because the entire transition to local currency described before this explains how they have stripped the non-expiring nature of the MSPs you purchased before. This is theft, but done in a way as to be technically legal.

You should never buy credit for an MS store (say, in a sale or other offer) that you do not intend to immediately use because their statement on credit expiry is known false. You may use this example of dishonesty as a reason to blacklist MS and totally avoid their digital stores, I know I will be less likely to spend money in their stores after this behaviour.

But some people seem to think I'm grossly exaggerating or lying when I make the claim this is theft, even if qualified to be a spin on theft that has been crafted to be technically legal. Let's look at exactly what happened and could happen again to see if we think this looks like theft.
  1. Someone offers for sale currency for their store (advertised as not expiring, can be used forever) and a supply of goods to be purchased using this store credit. Items have a real value of the real money required to be converted into this store credit to make that purchase.
  2. People use this store and buy credits in advance of needing them (the store actually makes it impossibly to by exactly the credit you need, you have to buy it in blocks), converting their real money into the equivalent value of store credit.
  3. The store owner, after accumulating significant real world money that is not spent but sitting as store credit that cannot be converted back to real money (thus avoiding the legal requirements applied to actual banks who provide an internal balance for people paying in real money), decides to end this situation.
  4. The store owner removes all items from sale using the store currency, making the value (in purchasable goods) of outstanding credit to be zero. But the credit has been guaranteed to not expire so cannot be removed. It is simply made worthless by removal of places to spend it. This is the opening for theft.
  5. A new store is created by the original store owner that sells the same goods and for the same real world prices, only there is a new store currency. This is where the people realise they've been stolen from.
  6. The store owner offers to convert the old, worthless currency to the new currency for use in the new store but the conversion process will create new currency credit that does expire. This is the scam that softens the theft, allowing users to sign over the non-expiring nature of their store credit for access to the credit in the new store (credit they previously thought they could spend on goods in the store forever).
  7. The store owner assures everyone that the new store currency you can buy will result in credit that never expires. Somehow the store owner doesn't think the people are on to their scam.