Skip to main content

Microsoft contractors listened to user audio from Xbox consoles

Both deliberate and accidental Cortana, Kinect commands were recorded and heard, most reportedly from children

Xbox owners who have hooked up a Kinect or made use of Cortana's voice commands may have had their audio recorded and then listened to by Microsoft contractors.

Vice reports that a number of contractors have come forward anonymously to admit part of their job was listening to recorded audio from Xboxes as far back as 2014. This was in response to a Motherboard report attesting that similar listening in occurred for Skype and Cortana audio on PC and mobile.

"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," said a former contractor. They added that most of the audio they listened to came from children.

While much of this audio was taken from deliberate user initiations such as "Xbox on" or "Hey Cortana," though some of it was clearly accidental. The contractor added that most of the Xbox audio was also fairly benign compared to the Skype and Cortana audio on other platforms, the latter of which included material that "could clearly be described as phone sex." The audio also reportedly included fewer accidental initiations as time went on.

"The Xbox stuff was actually a bit of a welcome respite, honestly. It was frequently the same games. Same DLCs. Same types of commands. 'Xbox give me all the games for free' or 'Xbox download [newest Minecraft skins pack]' or whatever."

Microsoft has said that audio data is only accessible through a secure online portal and has identifying information removed, though Motherboard found Microsoft job listings for work-from-home contractor positions.

"I generally feel like that while we do not have access to user identifiable information, that if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard that they wouldn't like that," a contractor said.

Read this next

Rebekah Valentine avatar
Rebekah Valentine: Rebekah arrived at GamesIndustry in 2018 after four years of freelance writing and editing across multiple gaming and tech sites. When she's not recreating video game foods in a real life kitchen, she's happily imagining herself as an Animal Crossing character.
Related topics