Following an in-depth investigation, Microsoft has begun handing out permanent suspensions to Xbox Live users who "illegitimately accessed Xbox Live Marketplace downloadable content."
A Microsoft representative offered the following on the official Xbox forums:
Please know that we are being very careful regarding these suspensions, and have clear evidence regarding each account issued a permanent suspension from the service. We apologize for any frustration or confusion resulting from our inability to share individual details, and thank you all for your cooperation in this matter.
Though the company fails to mention exactly what these now-banned gamers did to incur the company's wrath, CVG posits the idea that this whirlwind of account closures is related to a curious glitch in the Xbox Live Rewards program that received widespread publicity last month.
In short, the program issued thousands of free Microsoft points to gamers. No one was entirely sure why, though many speculated that the service was doubling any points legitimately purchased during a short time period. Seeing the sudden windfall, some gamers bought things, some contacted Microsoft, but the company's official stance was "we screwed up, enjoy the free points."
At least initially. Microsoft later recanted, and began recalling the points with no explanation whatsoever.
Whatever the reason, Microsoft seems quite confident in its newly revealed bans. "Clear evidence" seems pretty damning, and even if it isn't, the firm won't be explaining itself publicly.
On the one hand, I can't fault Microsoft for this move. The firm is responsible for maintaining the service in a fair fashion for its millions of subscribers, and Microsoft is allowed to take whatever steps it deems necessary to ensure that balance.
On the other, I've got sympathy for any ban recipients who are legitimately innocent of wrongdoing. That veil of secrecy is going to make any sort of appeal very difficult, if not impossible.
Such is the duality of corporate online security; as Teddy Roosevelt never said, "Speak softly and carry a big banhammer."