Have you ever had voice controls hooked up to your Xbox One machine? Have you ever let your Xbox One have access to voice recordings in your house?
Then we’ve got some bad news for you.
It was revealed this week that contractors working for Microsoft have reportedly listened to audio of Xbox users talking in their own houses. This is apparently so the contracting companies could improve the voice service offered by apps like Cortana, Motherboard reports.
In theory, recordings were supposed to start when a user said words like “Xbox” or “Hey Cortana,” but contractors have revealed that sometimes recordings would start by mistake, with other words or phrases prompting the Xbox to start recording audio.
“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,” one former Microsoft contractor told Motherboard.
A lot of these admissions come from staff that worked on Xbox prior to Cortana being added as an official app on the console, with voice data from 2014 and 2015 reportedly being the most accessed personal information.
Despite Microsoft’s assurances that Kinect voice commands were designed to protect the privacy of its players, the Motherboard source reveals that the most common data they heard was from children.
“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 anonymous source reveals.
“‘Xbox give me all the games for free’ or ‘Xbox download [newest Minecraft skins pack]’ or whatever.”
Despite the Kinect app being replaced by Cortana in 2016, current Microsoft contractors note that even up to this year, they had access to voice data recorded by the console (though Cortana was removed from the Xbox One in July this year).
It seems that as the app matured, staff heard less accidental activations of voice recordings: most people would simply tell Cortana ‘no’ when it was accidentally activated during gameplay or chat sessions.
So bear that in mind if you’re using voice commands on Microsoft hardware or software.
Microsoft has set up a page where you can choose to delete audio captured by any apps, though. You can find that at the link.
The company has also responded to the controversy.
A spokesperson said to Motherboard:
“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.
“We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors.”
It’s good to know the company is now being more transparent, but – as ever – be mindful of the terms and conditions if you’re ever using voice-activated commands for any device.