Warning EU Citizens: Avoid getting a Windows Phone (or Xbox Live for that matter)

One of the fundamental basis of the European Union is the principle of four freedoms: freedom of movement of people, goods capitals and services. As Europeans, we can freely move around member states and live in as legal residents.

However, if you’re planning to get a Windows Phone, prepare to have your rights as an EU citizen challenged by Microsoft.

This issue has been resolved: After a tenacious campaign spearheaded by Geoff Coupe and yours truly, Microsoft has updated its infrastructure and terms of service to allow accounts to be migrated from one country to another. You can read about this here.

Let me just say beforehand that Windows Phone is by far the best piece of smartphone hardware I had. In my view it is far — far superior than an iPhone or an Android phone. The problem isn’t with the phone’s hardware or the software, but with Microsoft’s draconian control of the phone’s ecosystem.

In order to purchase goods in the Windows Phone Marketplace, you require a Windows Live ID account. However, when you create a Windows Live ID account, the are certain details of the account that will be permanently bound to your current country of residence. I am talking about the account billing details.

Consider this scenario. John was living in France working as a contractor when he got his Windows Phone. He had to create a Windows Live ID to join the Windows Phone Marketplace, and so he did. He registered a payment card and even bought several apps for his phone. Well, now John moved back to the UK. And now he wants to change his payment details for a UK-based credit card.

Well, guess what. John can’t do that. Even if users update their Windows Live ID details at accounts.live.com and change their Country/Region to the country they are currently residents of, the Country/Region for billing information is disabled. Users will not be able to register a payment card (be it debit, credit or cash) from their new country of residence.

This means users will not be able to buy any new content with their existing Windows Live ID account using payment details from their new country of residence. Even though Microsoft operates around all EU member states. The only option suggest by Microsoft if for users that moved country to create a new Windows Live ID account. The inconvenience with this approach are enormous. Is Microsoft seriously suggesting that EU citizens must have one Windows Live ID per country they lived in? For instance, in 10 years I lived in 4 different countries. And what about digital rights management and all the content that users have acquired with their previous Windows Live IDs?

If you have a Xbox Live account prepare to add insult to the injury, because the same applies to Xbox Live content you might have bought, such as arcade games and add-ons. What gets me so disgruntled about this is that when I created my Windows Live ID ten years ago, I did so in order to join Xbox Live. Nowhere in their Terms and Conditions at the time I read that I would be forever bound to the country I was living in at the time. Since I created that Windows Live ID account I bought Xbox Live contents with it and used it for several other purposes, such as Microsoft Certifications. I use my current Windows Live ID for a lot of tasks and services. When I got my Windows Phone, I had NO IDEA that I would be bound to the Windows Phone Marketplace for the country which I was a former resident from when I signed in for Xbox Live.

What I found out is that by using certain prepaid Visa or MasterCard payment cards based in the country my Windows Live ID is bound to, I can in some cases by-pass Microsoft’s enforcement. The idea is that I can top-up my foreign prepaid card (from the same country where my Windows Live ID account is tethered to) with my local debit or credit card. However, Microsoft doesn’t like that and try to block the use of prepaid cards saying that they aren’t supported; which is puzzling, since they are getting paid for their content through legitimate means anyway, so what is the fuzz all about? Also, prepaid cards tend to charge customers for topping up their cards and/or an annual fee, and/or a transaction fee, which is an extra grievance.

Bottom line: If you are an EU citizen that enjoy your freedom of movement in the continent and want to get a smart phone with a choice of services and apps, think twice before getting a Windows Phone. Same applies to Xbox Live content.

And it is about to get worse with Windows 8: Geoff Coupe wrote an article about this issue at his blog, and how it is likely that all this grievance will extend to Windows desktops with the upcoming Windows marketplace in Windows 8. You can read all about it here.
And here are my subsequent thoughts about it.

Get involved: For more information about this issue and how you can get involved to demand a change, visit www.itisourdata.com.

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