Microsoft Contractors Listened to Voice Recordings of Xbox Owners (Updated)

Posted on August 21, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Games, Microsoft, Xbox One with 9 Comments

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson said the company has reviewed any voice recordings from Xbox “a number of months ago” and has no plans to restart those reviews. It does, however, review voice recordings of users sent within messages to investigate reports of abuse. Here’s the full statement:

“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.”

Original story follows.

Microsoft has been listening to audio recordings of Xbox users. A new report from Motherboard claims that Microsoft contractors listened to audio clips of Xbox users collected from Kinect and Cortana.

Microsoft is the latest company to have been listening to users’ audio clips via their personal assistant. Apple, Google, and Facebook also admitted to listening to users’ audio clips using contractors, though they later suspended the use of contractors following media coverage.

The new report claims that Microsoft contractors were able to listen to recordings of Xbox users, which was used to improve the voice command system. Most of the voices they heard were apparently of children, and the contractor was paid $10 an hour for their work. They were also able to listen to voice clips of when the voice command systems were triggered by mistake. “As time went on, we got less apparently accidental stuff as the feature improved,” a former contractor said.

Following Motherboard’s report, Microsoft has now tweaked its privacy policy to clarify how it uses real humans to review voice recordings of users. “We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Microsoft claims the company takes all the possible steps to protect the user’s privacy.

“We always get customer permission before collecting voice data, we take steps to de-identify voice snippets being reviewed to protect people’s privacy, and we require that handling of this data be held to the highest privacy standards in the law. At the same time, we’re actively working on additional steps we can take to give customers more transparency and more control over how their data is used to improve products,” the company said.

This may obviously come as a surprise to many, but it seems like a general practice throughout the industry. This is still obviously a big threat to people’s privacy, as many users most likely weren’t aware of other humans reviewing their voice recordings. Microsoft isn’t saying whether it will completely suspend the use of contractors to review your voice recordings collected from products like Cortana, though.

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