"We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services," says Microsoft

Microsoft admits contractors have listened to Xbox players via Kinect and Cortana in their homes

Microsoft has confirmed some of its contractors have heard Xbox players using voice commands captured by both Xbox One Kinect and Cortana. “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,” a former contractor working on behalf of Microsoft told Motherboard

“It was frequently the same games. Same DLCs. Same types of commands,” they added. “‘Xbox give me all the games for free’ or ‘Xbox download [newest Minecraft skins pack]’ or whatever.”

Another contractor shared a document that describes “how workers should work with different types of Cortana audio, including commands given to control an Xbox”. 

In a statement, Microsoft said the reason some contractors were required to listen in or use audio snippets was to improve the products, but now no longer reviewed the voice content of its customers for product improvement purposes.

It may still, however, review voice content submitted to the company as evidence of terms of service violations.

“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 told Motherboard in a statement. “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.”

“We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors,” the company added, although – as Motherboard points out – Microsoft did not explicitly state human staff may review these audio recordings in its privacy policy until after Motherboard’s prior reporting on the subject.

“We’ve recently updated our privacy statement to add greater clarity that people sometimes review this data as part of the product improvement process,” the company added. “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. At the same time, we’re actively working on additional steps we can take to give customers more transparency and more control over how their data is used to improve products.”

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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