PS4 Can Spy On You and Prevent Used Game Sales

With little more than a week left until the PlayStation 4 launches in North America, Sony has updated the device's Software Usage Terms. Those who preordered the machine are in for a few nasty surprises: By using the system, you are giving Sony permission to spy on you through the PlayStation Network (PSN), and game publishers permission to control the content you buy.

The information comes by way of Sony itself, which outlines the upcoming console's restrictions in sections dealing with reporting and resale.

Section 14 of the Software Usage Terms is titled "Are we monitoring PSN?" This details how Sony keeps track of users and user-generated media (UGM), including but not limited to written messages, voice messages and uploaded videos.

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"We can't monitor all PSN activity and we make no commitment to do so," Sony states. "However, we reserve the right in our sole discretion to monitor and record any or all of your PSN activity and to remove any of your UGM at our sole discretion, without further notice to you."

In practice, this likely means that Sony will monitor players who have been reported for bad behavior or posting offensive content, especially since Sections 12 and 13 deal with negative online experiences and how to report them.

However, the language in the document is quite broad, and could allow Sony to monitor any player for any reason it desires. Section 14 goes on to explain that your information "may be used by us or our affiliated companies to enforce [the Software Usage Terms], to comply with the law, to protect our rights and those of our licensors and users, and to protect the personal safety of our employees and users."

To be fair, there's nothing too outrageous in these stipulations. If you use the PS4's online service, Sony basically says that it has the right to monitor your usage to ensure that you are not taking any illegal or threatening actions. Still, the idea that Sony has both the ability and the right to monitor all of your communications may not sit well with some.

Potentially more troubling for the everyday user is Section 7, which deals with resale: "You must not resell either Disc-based Software or Software Downloads, unless expressly authorized by us and, if the publisher is another company, additionally by the publisher."

The message is clear: Lending PS4 games may be as easy as handing them over to a friend, but reselling them may require a few extra hoops. Sony and individual publishers may not put any restrictions on reselling games, but they have every right to.

Unless Sony and the individual publishers allow individual games to be resold, you will be unable to do so. It's hard to say exactly how the companies will enforce this, but using game licenses that link to individual accounts is a likely strategy.

At present, neither Sony nor any publisher has announced any plans to put restrictions on reselling games. By purchasing a PS4 and its associated software, though, you are agreeing to let Sony restrict how you sell your games if it ever so chooses.

Neither the surveillance nor the resale stipulations will present a problem for every user, and because of the very broad language, they could affect a wide swath of customers, or no one at all. You may not want to rush out and cancel your preorder, but if you're planning to pick up a PS4, be aware of the agreements you'll be making.

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Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.