Microsoft contractors have been listening in on audio recordings of Xbox One owners at home thanks to inadvertently triggered Xbox voice commands that resulted in recordings being stored by Microsoft, a new report claims.
A piece published by VICE Motherboard reveals that the words “Xbox” followed by “on” or “help” as well as “Hey Cortana” would trigger voice commands on the console that were then captured and stored. While it wasn’t a secret that Microsoft could record and access this audio, the report has brought to light the fact that accidental recordings were also being stored and accessed in the same way.
A current contractor for Microsoft told Motherboard that a lot of these inadvertently recorded conversations would end up being activated by people “telling Cortana no” as they were in the middle of a game and talking to friends. One former contractor revealed that many of the audio recordings contained the voices of children.
The former contractor explained:
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. The Xbox stuff was actually a bit of a welcome respite, honestly. It was frequently the same games. Same DLCs. Same types of commands.
Contractors are typically hired by Microsoft to listen in on select audio in order to improve the reliability of the software. Microsoft said in a statement given to Motherboard that the company has “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,” they continued.
A Microsoft spokesperson later told Windows Central that “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.”
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.