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Microsoft contractors reportedly listened in on Xbox One audio, too

Xbox One S
Xbox One S (Image credit: Xbox )

What you need to know

  • Microsoft contractors listened to audio captured by Xbox commands, according to a new report.
  • One contractor described the Xbox audio they heard as "a bit of a welcome respite."
  • The report comes after Microsoft confirmed that it uses humans to review snippets of Skype calls and Cortana commands.

Updated August 23, 2019: Updated with a statement from a Microsoft spokesperson.

Last week, Microsoft confirmed that it uses human contractors to review audio collected from Skype calls and Cortana commands to help improve the services alongside automated processing methods. According to a new report from Motherboard, you can now add Xbox consoles to that list as well.

Speaking with multiple anonymous sources, Motherboard reports that contractors were used to review audio snippets captured by Xbox consoles when users invoked commands with Kinect and, later, Cortana, some of which were captured by mistake. According to one contractor, however, the Xbox clips weren't as salacious as the phone sex calls described by contractors with Skype.

"Xbox commands came up first as a bit of an outlier and then became about half of what we did before becoming most of what we did," the contractor told Motherboard. "The Xbox stuff was actually a bit of a welcome respite, honestly. It was frequently the same games. Same DLCs. Same types of commands."

The contractor explained that most of the queries they would hear were from children, with queries amounting to things like "Xbox give me all the games for free." The contractors would also hear audio captured by users who accidentally initiated Xbox or Cortana commands, the report says.

In a statement to Motherboard, Microsoft said, "We've long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors."Microsoft updated its privacy policies last week to clarify that audio snippets are sometimes reviewed by human contractors in addition to automated methods after news broke about contractors listening to pieces of Skype calls and Cortana interactions. But human involvement in these review processes, which are meant to help improve the services, wasn't clear to users before the updates to Microsoft's policies.

A Microsoft spokesperson clarified in a statement to Windows Central that the company has stopped reviewing most voice content from Xbox users for improving products.

We stopped reviewing any voice content taken through Xbox for product improvement purposes a number of months ago, as we no longer felt it was necessary, and we have no plans to re-start those reviews. We occasionally review a low volume of voice recordings sent from one Xbox user to another when there are reports that a recording violated our terms of service and we need to investigate. This is done to keep the Xbox community safe and is clearly stated in our Xbox terms of service.

If you want to delete audio recordings of your interactions with Microsoft services, the company offers an online tool (opens in new tab) to do so on your account privacy dashboard. Along with audio recordings, you can use the tool to delete browsing history and other data stored by Microsoft.

Xbox (opens in new tab)

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Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

6 Comments
  • AHAHA typical fanboy damage controlling by deflecting how bad this is with some "whataboutism".
  • Even with Microsoft "updating" the terms of conditions to encompass clauses to cover themselves legally it still falls afoul of processing clauses in the EU's GDPR policy. As to intiate the commands or any voice calls the services do not require any interaction from any persons employed by a company as it's a merely point to point interaction between the user and the service or hardware. Improvements fall under the opt-in category and that must be explicitly stated a long with a prominent button showing that users are opted-out until the press that button. Therefore giving their express permission to have SNIPPETS of their voice recorded AND listened into for service "improvements". There cannot be any clause that makes enables any company to record a user voice which is listened to other people. Because legally any sentence or clause that enables a company to do so opens up a massive can of worms (especially with ease of digital forgery of a person identity including photos, videos and voice) as it becomes open to interpretation (this is why legal documents have a definitions section) i.e. one company can interpet the above sentence as carte blanche to record people's voice ergo conversations in their entirety therefore falling a foul of privacy laws thus liable for greater fines and prosecutable offences.
  • So people really weren't that far off with all the spying conspiracies and controversy that surrounded the Xbox One reveal with Kinect 2.0. Lol
  • It is despicable they can do this without even getting permission. Unfortunately no one amongst the big players can be trusted.
  • I didn't reply straight away to this. I wanted to see how many people would reply to this. And it's surprising that Mixer/Ninja gets more comments than a topic where MS is caught red-handed spying on conversation on skype and Cortana.
    I guess they'll try to avoid this type of news... Anyway, quite pathetic by MS. And the worst thing is that they just updated the terms of service. Meaning they'll continue to spy on people. When I see what they have done with windows 10 and now with this, I just laugh at how they used to try to act like the good guys with their stupid "scroogled" ad campaign...
    What hypocrites!!!
  • Not really trying to defend MS here but it's not like this isn't unheard of or not to be expected. When you hook a microphone to your internet connected device, you can bet your last dollar that a human may hear it some day, especially when it states that communications will be used for improvement. It shouldn't have to be spelled out that this means humans, or even contracted employees. The funny part is that the people most worried about this have an Alexa device in every room. What do they think these do?