Microsoft contractors have been listening to voice recordings captured on Xbox One consoles in people's living rooms since 2014, according to Motherboard. The company has now stopped the practice and will remove Cortana from Xbox.
A microphone in your home
Like other modern devices, Xbox One offers voice capabilities. Commands like "Xbox" or "Hey Cortana" trigger the voice system but former contractors working for Microsoft reveal that conversations in living rooms were sometimes recorded without the trigger word by mistake.
The contractors tell Motherboard that they have worked on Xbox audio data since 2014, before Cortana was implemented. Back then, Xbox One relied on the Kinect system. Contractors were instructed to keep the nature of their work for Microsoft a secret.
- "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," one source told Motherboard.
In a statement to Motherboard Microsoft says that it stopped the practice "a number of months ago". However, it will still review voice recordings that "violate 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 we have no plans to re-start those reviews," a Microsoft spokesperson 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."
These are just the latest revelations to come to light. Previous reports have detailed how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google listened to private conversations in or outside the home through voice systems such as Alexa, Siri, and Assistant. Like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook have suspended the use of human contractors after swelling media coverage and customer concerns. Amazon will offer an opt-out system.
Some people have suspected foul play for years but most owners have been unaware of the practice. The companies involved have insisted that privacy is a top priority, yet companies have failed to disclose that humans review voice recordings from living rooms.
Earlier this decade, TV makers such as Samsung began equipping Smart TVs with cameras and microphones. It was later revealed that these systems were far from secure and that CIA had even developed an eavesdropping tool. TV makers later removed cameras and microphones but the new wave of voice assistants have prompted some manufacturers such as Sony to once again install microphones in the frame of TVs. Other TVs have microphones built into the remote control.
Microsoft has also listened to some Skype calls as well as Cortana on other devices. The company is planning to remove Cortana integration from Xbox with a coming software update.
Goodbye Cortana, we hardly knew ya.
- Source: Motherboard