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Your Xbox One may have let other people listen to you, Microsoft contractors say

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Les Shu/Digital Trends

When Microsoft first revealed the Xbox One in 2013, the plan was for the Kinect sensor to be a mandatory accessory that the system could not function without. Potential customers were concerned that such a requirement would allow others to listen in on their conversations, and according to contractors who have worked with Microsoft, that did happen despite the requirement being removed prior to launch.

According to Vice’s Motherboard website, when commands via the Xbox One’s voice controls were triggered accidentally, contractors at Microsoft wre able to hear them in their home — albeit briefly. Microsoft used the contractors in order to improve the features on Xbox One, but if one of the wake-up words was said without the user realizing it, the contractors could hear other chatter not meant for the Xbox One, including from children.

Contractors were able to hear players’ voices both when the original Kinect system was in place, and when the system graduated to Cortana. The Kinect is now discontinued and Cortana has been removed from Xbox One, and the contractors said that over time, they have heard fewer accidental voice commands and more that were directly related to the console’s features. Privacy policy changes and options by Microsoft also allow players to control what data is used, but there is something a little bit dystopian about knowing a real person could have been listening to what you said.

After our initial story was published, a Microsoft spokesperson reached out to Digital Trends and said that the company had “stopped reviewing any voice content taken through Xbox for product improvement purposes” several months ago, and it was not planning on resuming that in the future. The company now only reviews audio recordings when a report is filed against a user for violating the terms of service.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The PlayStation 4 also includes an accessory called the PlayStation Camera that can be used for certain voice commands. Sony’s privacy policy gives the company permission to “collect the information” from voice chat as well. Unlike the Kinect, you can still get a PlayStation Camera, as it’s needed for PlayStation VR.

If you want to be well-protected against anyone listening to your voice, then we recommend sticking with the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the Wii U and 3DS, it doesn’t have a built-in microphone and the system requires a separate mobile app in order to chat online. This solution makes little sense for most players, who could instead just run Discord or a similar program from their phone.

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Gabe Gurwin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Gabe Gurwin has been playing games since 1997, beginning with the N64 and the Super Nintendo. He began his journalism career…
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