This young lady is sitting on her back in my Microsoft SkyDrive Account. As you’ve probably guessed, she’s wearing nothing.

And if you can find the full version of her picture (taken this morning from the front page of sex.com), you’ll see a lot more of her. In fact, “what-is-pornography” debates notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that the image I’ve buried in SkyDrive would be viewed in most places, by most people, as “obscene” (butt-uncovering disclaimer: there are, of course, others who would see it as “art”).

The full-frontal nudity version of that picture isn’t just in my Microsoft SkyDrive account; it’s in the public folder. That being the case, if you had the file’s very long URL you could see it. You’re exceedingly unlikely to find the picture unless I give you that URL, though, and I can’t even give you a link directly to it; instead, to share a SkyDrive-hosted file you have to embed the URL in a web page, like this:

<iframe src=”https://skydrive.live.com/embed?cid=###CECBEC223B34B&amp;resid=###CECBEC223B34B%21183&amp;authkey=AXxxxxHQTzkiu7s” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” width=”98″ height=”120″></iframe>

I’ve replaced certain characters from the URL with characters that will prevent you from getting to the image. I’ve also messed up a couple of others. With that said: go ahead and try. And hey, Microsoft: that challenge applies ESPECIALLY to you.

Here’s why this all matters:

As this article points out, it seems that just as Microsoft has decided to get serious about The Cloud, social media, storage, and keeping you on Microsoft-owned web sites as much as possible, it’s also decided to be your not-at-all-personal censor. Short story: according to Microsoft’s terms of service for SkyDrive, keeping ANYTHING on SkyDrive that depicts nudity of any sort is verboten. Period.

I don’t have a problem with that at a pure business level. See my disclaimer above? Here in the United States, where we have a constitutional-but-ultimately-hard-to-define-right to “free speech“, the legal precedent that determines what “pornography” is has to do with the mores of the community where the material is being distributed and/or viewed. Some communities will see certain things as pornography, others will see the same thing as art (disclaimer #2: I am not an attorney).

Microsoft, not wanting to be involved in that debate here in the USA, and certainly not wanting it in places where the rules are much more restrictive, has made the business decision of just not allowing anything remotely controversial to be so much as stored on any of their servers, or within any of their cloud services.

Or, Microsoft is practicing censorship.

It was over three years ago that I first called out the issue of censorship in business change. I’ve talked about it several times since; in general I believe that “Thou Shalt Not Censor” is the most useful approach to take anytime there’s even a hint of coopetition in the mix, and I believe that Apple’s position regarding racy content in iTunes Store Apps is a very bad decision. But censorship might be called for by multinational corporations playing defense against potential lawsuits.

So much as it pains me to say so, the problem in Microsoft’s position isn’t the censorship itself so much as the privacy implications of that policy. What IS Privacy, really? How will Microsoft know that I have something “naughty” in there? Are they intercepting information their users send out? Are they scanning your files looking for pornography/nudity? HOW CAN THE MICROSOFT PORNOGRAPHY PROSCRIPTION BE ENFORCED, OTHERWISE?

Again, I haven’t pointed you at the actual naughty item I’ve buried in my Microsoft SkyDrive account, so I’m interested to see whether Microsoft finds it, and what actions they take if and when they do.

It’s hard for big companies to write Terms of Service. Dropbox’s TOS document is a little sketchy, and TwitPic’s TOS is unconscionable. Microsoft? Just plain walking on thin ice telling users what they can store in SkyDrive; there are too many other options to risk this.

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