If you're an Xbox Live user on Xbox One or Windows 10, you've likely stumbled across spambots. Often opening with a simple greeting before throwing a shady URL, they're misleading, harmful, and fighting for your attention.
Microsoft has a bot problem – and it's getting out of hand.
The rise of spambots on Xbox Live
Spambots are a problem on any social platform, including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. They're the accounts that drop luring messages paired with shady links, with a tease about meeting the love of your life or making a quick buck. They might be obvious for the web-wise generation, but they can easily bait naïve recipients into visiting sites that seize personal details and spread malware.
The pool of bots flooding Xbox Live messages remains on the rise, first kickstarted by its Windows 10 debut in 2015. Microsoft pledged to improve the state of spam on Xbox One, providing IGN with the following statement at the time:
Microsoft allows Xbox Live accounts to send a limited number of messages every day to other users, and we are aware that some accounts are using this functionality to deliver spam messages. We are continuously working on ways to prevent the spread of spam messaging to our users through a variety of methods including removal of these accounts. We encourage members to report inappropriate messages by following the guidance on enforcement.xbox.com.
Spam messages have remained a problem since, and there's been a noticeable uptick in recent weeks, as detailed the Xbox One subreddit. Its pool of over one million users continues to flag the issue, with moderators now removing bot threads entirely to avoid cluttering the forum.
Microsoft's Xbox Live network lies at the heart of its gaming efforts, rooted in the Xbox One console, now bridging Windows 10 PCs, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices. Its growth remains a prominent figure in Microsoft's quarterly earnings, with its upcoming expansion at the forefront of the firm's Games Developer Conference (GDC) 2019 announcements, too.
However, while Xbox Live is more important than ever, spam's presence across the platform hasn't gone unnoticed. Spambot messages are far from uncommon, with waves of players continuing to voice concerns. It's also a familiar landscape in the "Trending" community feed, with posts promising free gift cards or farming engagement regularly appearing in the Home menu. Microsoft is pushing hard for cross-platform initiatives, and it needs to ensure Xbox Live is fitter than ever throughout this expansion.
How to stop Xbox Live spambots
While Microsoft has previously shown it's aware of bot issues on Xbox Live, we've yet to see a formal fix. It makes countering these accounts challenging, although there are tools to consider (and more on the way.)
Xbox Live offers a suite of privacy toggles on the Xbox site, including options to filter voice and text communication to friends only. Although it means locking down Xbox features like looking-for-gamer (LFG) matchmaking, it fully bars unknown accounts from dropping links your way. This setting can be tweaked via the Xbox account privacy and online safety tools and by scrolling to Privacy > Others can: > Others can communicate with voice, text, or invites. Microsoft also provides tools to report incoming messages from the inbox, in theory helping identify spam accounts.
Xbox One's upcoming "Message Requests," will also play a significant role, and it is currently in testing via the Xbox Insider Program. The feature splits messages from unknown users into a dedicated subfolder, with the option to toggle notifications for this tab. It helps filter spam bots into a separate area, currently set for a public release later this year. However, there's no indication of a rollout to the second-rate Xbox apps available on Windows 10, iOS, and Android.
Microsoft still lots of work to do if it wants to catch bots before their messages reach users. Almost all spam bots leverage freshly-made accounts with zero playtime while sharing similar automated responses. Enforcing firmer restrictions on new accounts to avoid misuse could play a role in building a safer and more enjoyable platform.
Spambots are a natural setback with any social platform in its infancy, and platform owners must take appropriate precautions to prevent or diminish effects on its users. While Microsoft is showing investments to curb bot influence, it still sits in the spotlight in 2019.
Let us know your experience with bots on Xbox Live in the comments.
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