It can be hard to avoid the all-encompassing surveillance system that tech companies use to harvest your data to sell to advertisers. Maybe you avoided getting an Amazon Alexa, you put a sticker over your webcam, took all the necessary precautions. Well, it turns out you might have missed something, since even your Xbox One is listening to you.
Former contractors for Microsoft have come forward saying that they have listened to audio recording’s of people’s conversations. The recordings were supposed to be used to improve Xbox One’s voice command features, and were allegedly only meant to be captured following one of the console’s voice commands such as “Hey Cortana” or “Xbox.” However, the audio recordings were frequently of conversations unrelated to Xbox voice commands, that Microsoft’s contractors claim triggered accidentally.
One contractor reported that Xbox audio shifted from being “a bit of an outlier” to becoming the majority of audio they listened to. The audio data was ranged from 2014 and 2015, when the Xbox was controlled via voice commands through the Kinect system, to 2016 and on, when the Xbox One implemented Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana. The former contractor also said that most of the recorded audio files that they listened to were of children.
This is not the first time that Microsoft has been implicated in recording consumer audio. The tech giant has also had former contractors come forward reporting that they have listened to private audio conversations through Skype. These including personal conversations, including conversations about weight loss and relationship issues. Contractors said that Microsoft was “incredibly lax… in terms of protecting user data.” Unlike some companies, Microsoft does require a warrant before they give the government any content data, but the fact that real people are used to process what are supposed to be private conversations makes Microsoft’s handling of this data unfortunate at best.
So, what does that mean if you’re an Xbox One owner? Mostly, nothing. Short of not using the voice command functionality on your Xbox, there’s not much you can do. However, if you do want to forego voice commands, there is a way to stop voice collection and clear Cortana’s data, which should, theoretically at least, protect your conversations.