Microsoft has admitted that it has been using humans to listen to audio recordings from Xbox One gamers since 2014, but said it has now stopped doing so.
Microsoft said the recordings were reviewed to improve the game console’s voice commands. Although it has stopped the practice, the company said it still reviewed a low volume of recordings in instances where gamers are reported for violating its terms of service.
“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 have no plans to restart those reviews,” a spokesman said.
“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.”
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Contractors hired by Mircrosoft revealed to Motherboard that they often listened to clips gathered by Kinect and Cortana, when triggered by user voice commands such as “Xbox” or “Hey Cortana”.
A contractor who worked on the Xbox recordings from 2014 to 2015 said most of the voices they heard were of children using voice commands to operate the console.
Microsoft told Motherboard: “We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors. We’ve recently updated our privacy statement to add greater clarity that people sometimes review this data as part of the product improvement process.
“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.”
This latest revelation follows on from another report by Motherboard that discovered Microsoft had allowed contractors to listen to Skype calls made through the app’s translation service.
Microsoft is not alone in listening in on its users, major companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Apple have also admitted that they engaged in similar practices. Until recently, Facebook used human contractors to review and transcribe its users’ audio.
Although Facebook users opted in to have this done, many did so believing that the recordings would be reviewed by artificial intelligence rather than humans.
Similarly, Apple suspended Siri recordings following claims by a former contractor that workers “regularly” overhead confidential and intimate encounters and conversations. Amazon, too, has halted the practice after staff reportedly heard “distressing” recordings taken by the company’s Alexa voice assistant.