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Xbox Live has a real spambot problem — and it's getting worse

343 Guilty Spark
343 Guilty Spark (Image credit: Windows Central)

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 (opens in new tab) 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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Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Games Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

52 Comments
  • I think they should implement something similar to Steam where you have to spend $5 to be able to access all the social features. Possibly even in conjunction with Gamerscore minimum just to make it harder for these accounts .
  • Aren't Xbox console users paying enough already?
  • Which would be covered by one month of Xbox Live service. The idea is to make it expensive for Spambots to do business on the platform. It's all about return on investment. Honestly, I'd be fine with completely locking out non-Gold members or at least creating two tiers of chat.
  • Or, just let them use some of the gold subscription money to work on a system to prevent spam bots.
  • @Guest While you are correct, one can also argue that we ARE paying for this service already in our Gold membership. Xbox enforcement maybe over zealous at times and the appeals process needs serious work, but isn't it better than not having any police in the system? I think that messaging problem can easily be and should be solved to where users like me don't have to deal with spam, but are open to receive any message from non blocked people. This is something that I feel that I pay for, just like enforcement. Being that XBL is NOT a messenger service primarily, I don't think it's too far out of the box to say that there should be some kind of requirement to use this MS service actively. Hell, this could even be using the Netflix app on Xbox once a month.
  • PSN is free?
  • Yes it's free
  • It is? You can play COD or GT Sport online against other players without paying?
  • You seem confused. Looks like you don't know the difference between PSN and PS+. :)
  • Fair enough. Xbox live is also free. If you want to play online multiplayer games on PS4 do you not have to pay for it? Trying to figure out what you meant by your original comment. Aren't Sony fans already paying enough for paid PSN subscription(plus) that lags, has more downtime, spam bots that brick their consoles and blocked cross console play?
  • Because the article is talking about Xbox so Guest was talking about Xbox, PSN has a significantly worse bot problem (at least in my experience) than the Xbox has so while you could discuss it, this site is generally loathe to discuss anything PlayStation.
  • @jams
    "If you want to play online multiplayer games on PS4 do you not have to pay for it?"
    Not for all games. On PS4, free2play games are actually free. About your second question, I'm not sure where you get your "information", but why does everything got to come back to Sony and a silly console war with you?
    We are talking about MS here. You want me to trash Sony for asking money to play online? Sure **** Sony for following the MS example and asking money to play online. My initial comment was in direct respond to the article and the first post .
  • So Sony follows MS? Why doesn't Sony follow MS and offer backwards compatibility? Wasn't free online multilayer gaming a big selling point for PS3 over xbox? Your comment makes zero sense.
  • LOL The way you want to make everything into a silly fanboy console war is hilarious.
    You do know I don't give a **** about companies. Sony and MS can both **** off. Now, if you can't understand my reply to pedenske's comment then I really can't help you. Other people actually understood it so maybe it's a you problem in this case. :)
  • On PS3 it's free.
  • Why isn't it free on the PS4?
  • Because of the Micro$oft standard? Kidding aside, this is the reason. MS already laid the foundation for charging for online play. Everyone else can just jump in and not take the heat.
  • But it costs money to run and maintain an infrastructure. How would any business be expected to do this for free indefinitely? Anyone even with a bit of IT knowledge would know this.
  • I understand this, but look at the fact that PC gamers still don't have this tax to play. Then, look at the fact that I can play the SAME GAMES on the SAME SERVICE on my W10 PC without my Gold subscription. This uses the same servers, how does this make sense?
  • But see someone is still paying the tax. That's like saying universal health care is free when in fact it's not. Someone pays for it... The end result is it costs money to run and maintain an infrastructure. There is no infrastructure that is fast, secure, highly available with minimal downtime and fully redundant for free.
  • So can you tell us where the estimated more than $1b is actually going?
    Why do you actually need that much money?
    Please give us details. :) "How would any business be expected to do this for free indefinitely?"
    err I don't know look at what's going on with PC gaming. Gaming online on PC existed before XB was even created and it's still going strong.
    Funny how MS tried to make it a paid service but failed. Also funny how others didn't make it paid are still have a profitable business model.
  • "Also funny how others didn't make it paid are still have a profitable business model." So why do PS4 players have to get a PS Plus subscription to play online games?
  • We already answered that... MS laid the ground work. It's an accepted practice. You are going in circles in your argument. You can't aruge that it's totally for infastructure costs, when the SAME company doesn't charge its other users the same costs on PC. They use the same servers to sign in and connect! Think of it like loot crates, sure games still take heat for it, but it's now an accepted practice and ANY game can now come in and put that crap in and some idiot is going to pay. Also, your universal Healthcare argument is flawed. Everyone gets the service, but everyone also pays who pays taxes. In this instance it's more like the current standard we have, the insurance payers pay, and the poor skip out on bills because the cost is astronomical.
  • Yes you are going in circles. You don't seem to understand business and IT. Maybe you want online gaming for consoles where take battlefield for example, you can search through a list of available online games and join based on your preference. And I agree that type or similar kind of functionality should be free or subsidized on consoles. The game companies can pay for costs using the money they get when people buy their games. But to expect a fully unified centralized online gaming service to be offered completely for free across the board for all games that includes matching making, ranking, achievements/trophies, group party support and other features for free is completely ridiculous. The bottom line is infrastructure, staff, servers, data centers, storage, connectivity etc all cost MONEY. It has to come from somewhere. Nothing is free. Sorry but we get universal health care where i live and don't let insurance companies make life saving health care decisions on behalf of doctors to save money. We don't worry about deductibles and pre-existing conditions or politicians who get bribed and lobbied. Not to mention your country pays more per person via taxes and still somehow get less coverage overall. So your argument is the one that's flawed based on your flawed system.
  • "The bottom line is infrastructure, staff, servers, data centers, storage, connectivity etc all cost MONEY. It has to come from somewhere."
    Can I ask you what infrastructure are you talking about? XB live existed since 2002 and they have been asking for money ever since.
    If we talk servers despite the promise, most of the games are Peer2Peer.
    Ok sure you'll need have some APIs that are used to authenticate users. They should have some DB for achievements, client and other information. A matchmaking server. There must be a support team but we are talking about $1 BILLION / year for over 10-15 years.
    They have already covered the cost of development for the infrastructure years ago. And if you think it takes $1b/year to maintain this service, then either you are kidding yourself or you have no idea what you're talking about. The funny thing that kills all your argument is the PC example.
    MS failed to make PC gamers pay to use their service. So their service is free for PC gamers. Why would MS still be in gaming if they are losing money? And yet again, you just want to ignore the fact that it's free on PC. It's always been free. They offer similar service but they aren't going bankrupt. Do you know why? Because whatever costs are factored into the price point of the games on purchase. Do you think they would still be in business if they were actually losing money? LOL But since you claim to know a lot in IT please let us know where the $1b / year is actually going...
  • ... Or explain why it's free for XBL on PC and not on Xbox? I love how the automatic response is that we don't understand IT, and that's why we don't understand why XBL on Xbox costs money. We do understand, and that's why you can't charge for one, but not the other. If they use the same servers how is that fair? Also, YOU ARE THE ONE who brought up universal Healthcare. I simply equated it to this situation. It IS NOT like this setup at all because EVERYONE would be paying for it with taxes (Xbox and PC) to use the service. The current setup is like the flawed system that we have in the US right now, where me the tax payer (Xbox) pays for the service for the people who don't (PC users)! How about trying to understand both viewpoints before responding? For instance, I am a XBL Gold member for 14 years (or longer) now, and I can still see that it's unfair to charge one but not the other.
  • Wow, thankfully I have not had to experience this.
  • damn and ya'll paying for this?? smh
  • Yea, still better than the competition. Remember everyone else was free, with faults, now they pay with faults.
  • Being better is subjective.
    But yes, all console gamers can thank MS for making gamers pay to play online.
    Because of the 360 generation, Sony decided to join the party and now it's Nintendo's turn. MS tried to make PC gamers pay to play online and they told MS to **** off. How can people play for free on PC and not on console? You don't need to pay to play forza 7 online on Win10 but you need to pay for some reason on XB1. Where is the money going? Where are the dedicated servers for every game that MS promised? (https://www.gamespot.com/articles/microsoft-to-offer-dedicated-servers-f...) Can anyone tell us how much of the money is going into R&D new infrastructure or into maintenance? How much is going directly in the pockets of investors? Yes, well done MS. You managed to get us to pay to play online and you also get junkies defending the move...
  • If you honestly think the other companies were going to forever be providing free online services you're delusional. Just because Microsoft was the first company to charge for online doesn't mean they are the reason that everyone is doing it. As an aside, I have no issues paying to play online, I've been doing it on PC for years as well (MMO's) so I'm fine with it on consoles. I also don't judge a company for trying to make money, it's literally their purpose, none of these places are charities, or doing anything out the goodness of their own hearts, they want your money, plain and simple.
  • People did have a real problem with Everquest when that all started, but that quickly went away. If XBL were dedicated servers like logging into Wow, then I don't think people would have an issue with XBL Gold. The problem is there are less and less (or maybe the same ratio there has always been) games that use peer to peer vs XBL servers for matchmaking. Usually if a game uses a dedicated server, it's provided by EA or some other publisher. They can try making people pay again on PC, but PCs will always have the ability to run programs to act as dedicated servers, which consoles just don't have the power to do.
  • Actually there is no way of saying for sure that this would have happened even if MS wasn't there. But we know for sure that MS tested the waters and had loads of people willing to pay for an entire generation to play online. And others did the same while "giving" games in exchange.
    When Sony started giving games with their subscription, MS followed that with their own "gifts". Would I be also "delusional" if I thought that MS would have never done GWG if Sony wasn't there? The thing is that competition usually makes things better for consumers. But it can also be a bad thing for us. If one company manage to get away with an anti-consumer policy and make loads of money in the process. It is more than likely that the competition will try to do the same. When MS wanted to push for the all Digital-DRM policies in 2013, they were expecting/hoping Sony would do the same. And if that happened console gaming would have been a lot different today. Sony didn't. Do you think I'm delusional if I think because of that MS were forced to do the 180 in 2013? There is a difference between few selected MMO having monthly subscription and what Sony/MS is doing. MS just blocks everyone to play multiplayer games (even free2play games) unless they pay MS some cash. See, I don't mind companies trying to make money but it should be justified. A company makes a game, sure I'll buy their game and I'll be very happy if they make loads of money...
    But here a company is blocking a feature that is available elsewhere for free. They hold that feature at ransom because it is a close platform.
    They tried to do it in an open platform and failed because on an open platform like PC there is direct competition that don't ask money to play online. Let them justify the money they are asking. Maybe in the past they needed money to build the infrastructure but they have been collecting billions for years now. Surely the infrastructure are built. The amount of money they are making is insane and it'll be crazy to think that a big part of that cash isn't "free money" that is made by keeping a "free feature" behind a paywall. If we as customers just start saying "it's ok, companies can milk us because they are just want to make money" then we might as well allow them to **** us with pay2win, lootbox, microtransactions, timed exclusives...
  • Games With Gold is 100% a reaction to Sony, no doubt about it. Don't pay then? If you don't think it's worth the cost, don't pay for Gold or Plus. I actually don't game all that much online, but the games I do play are basically MMO's and the occasional shooter, so I don't see it as any different to paying for WOW or Everquest. I do however make use of the free Games With Gold, as well as Deals with Gold. Which for the zero dollars I pay for Xbox Live Gold (I use Microsoft Rewards for my Gold subscription) I'm quite happy with that. Which is another thing, there is the very real option that a person can be getting Live Gold for free (well, subsidised by purchases and internet time). It really isn't difficult.
  • We have no idea either way. What we know for sure is what happened. So if I think Sony forced pay to play online because MS was doing it then that's my opinion. You have nothing that proves that shows the opposite so you have nothing to show that I'm being delusional. You can't just say "don't pay if you're not happy" in a close environment like console gaming. If someone wants to play online, he is obliged to pay whether he is happy or not.
    Unlike on PC. The only reason why MS failed to make online gaming on PC a paying service is because there was competition. And others didn't join MS.
    Games with gold and Deals with Gold are some of the thing that help sweeten the deal. But we got to consider that for years they didn't have games for gold. So they used to make a lot more "free money" during the 360 period. I said it previously. I wish these companies are transparent about where the money is going. And how much is going back to investors. With Gold they managed to create a problem. Thanks to marketing and messaging, they managed to create a new market when there wasn't really a need.
  • Paying for online - "But yes, all console gamers can thank MS for making gamers pay to play online." Referencing free titles - "We have no idea either way." Why is one situation an absolute and the other isn't?
  • Well, it's simple. We give credit to the inventor and the people who make something mainstream. Good or bad.
    In this case, it's MS that pushed for this pay to play all online games for console. They even tried to push for "paying to play online games on PC" but failed on that occasion. Here MS were inventor, made it mainstream and pushed to make it mainstream on other platforms.
    Just like anything, sure other companies could have had the idea and made it mainstream but the fact is that it's MS who have done that. Surely we can't take that away from them...
  • Yet Xbox Live recovered much faster from the DDoS attacks that took PSN down for days at a time. That alone should show you where at least some of the money from the subscription goes, protecting the infrastructure from disruption.
  • Yeah, I think minimum spend/account age/gamerscore requirement should be met before you can send messages and follow people. Or have a gold subscription. Not that it's a real big issue. I only get maybe one or two every three months or so.
  • I haven't seen it, but then again I prefer to play single player and I have all that crapola turned off. I didn't realize this was even and issue, another reason social "features" are just a pox on the internet.
  • How come MS can't allow us to Whitelist our friends list and automatically block everything else? Or other similar features to FB. Allow us to choose or group Gamertags that we would allow messages, others just for online play?
  • Just for fun I've unlinked the social accounts under my profile and reset my Xbox Live privacy to custom and visited a lot of settings that I hadn't looked at in years. That should do the trick for now.
  • I've had one spam message on Xbox Live in 7 years. I get significantly more on PS4, but then again that is also linked to my Facebook so I guess there is more visible access to bots or something. As an aside does anyone ACTUALLY use the feeds on Xbox Live? Like, I feel like that entire section of the dashboard is pointless.
  • I never actually gotten a single spam message on Xbox live. My brother has gotten way more on his PS4 though like you mentioned. PSN also seems to have more service interruptions compared to Xbox live. I remember when Sony fans used to brag about PSN being free now you don't hear that talk anymore.
  • they can't even stop spam to outlook.com mailboxes
  • I haven't received a single spam message in my outlook.com account, not sure what you are on about. I get way more on my Comcast account and my office 365 work account.
  • I used to get a lot of spam into my outlook.com account but with a bit of work that can be filtered out, same goes for my BT Mail address as well.
  • I get a lot of spam in my outlook account, I just delete them, no hard no foul.
  • But how can Microsoft put an end to the problem? Blocking Russian IP Addresses would be a good start.
  • LOL what bs!!
  • You didn't know all spam comes from Russia? I actually thought came from Austin, Minnesota.
  • I get the same on Playstation also