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.

Tagged with , , ,

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (9)

9 responses to “Microsoft Contractors Listened to Voice Recordings of Xbox Owners (Updated)”

  1. jbinaz

    Seems like this is a non-story to me. To me, the only way it's news is if Microsoft had told you no one was listening to your audio commands, and yet they still were. I wouldn't think that a contractor or MS employee listening doesn't make much of a difference, unless Microsoft's agreement with their vendors doesn't include a privacy clause, or the vendor routinely ignores their agreement regarding privacy with Microsoft.

    That said, non-lawyer language that is easy to understand about what they do/don't have rights to do should be required. Back it up with the legalese if you need to, and let people read the full legal agreement if they want, but a summary of the agreement everyone can understand is how every company should approach this stuff.

    • justme

      In reply to jbinaz:

      In many respects, I agree. While I understand the necessity of legal language, I think it should be mandated that the whats, whys, hows, and wherefores of what Microsoft/Amazon/Apple/Google do with your voice data should be clearly explained so it can be understood by a layman. I suspect the majority of average users out there dont understand that this goes on or why it goes on.

  2. evox81

    Has there been any evidence that this has been abused? **Assuming** this data is properly anonymized, unless there's abuse, I just don't care about Microsoft (or any other company) doing this.

    • nerdile

      In reply to evox81:

      When contractors sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to perform their work reviewing the accuracy of voice recognition, and then leak unintentional or private recordings to the press, does that count as "abuse"?

  3. docpaul

    I think plenty of people don't realize this is happening.

  4. sabertooth920

    Since hardly anyone uses Kinect and Cortana, how much was actually listened to.

    if a tree falls...

  5. crmguru

    How is this a "Big Threat"? I don't understand that claim. A threat to privacy would be if the "Listeners" knew who the users were and the user said a bank ID or revealed some personally identifiable information, then turned that into some attack. But to have a guy in India listen to a 18 year old kid from Scranton screaming at someone for NoobTubing him from across the map is not a Big Threat.

  6. Stooks

    OMG!!!!!! Who cares. I do not know anyone that talks to their Xbox anymore. Those contractors probably only worked for a week until they got through all of the recordings.

  7. stevem

    Xbox turn on

    Xbox watch TV

    Xbox turn off

    Hey Cortana, will it rain today?

    Surely the commands don't get linked with users anyway when the audio is being reviewed against what the AI thinks it heard.

Leave a Reply