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Contractors working for Microsoft’s Xbox claim to have listened to audio recordings

Microsoft Corp. has found itself in hot water again after contractors working for the company said they have listened to Xbox One users in their homes via voice recordings.

According to an article published by Motherboard Wednesday, several contractors claimed to have listened to those recordings. The practice goes back to when Xbox One could be controlled via the Kinect system and later when the voice assistant Cortana was added.

The reason again was so Microsoft could improve the product, although contractors said sometimes the commands were purely accidental. “Most of the Xbox related stuff I can recall doing was obviously unintentional activations with people telling Cortana ‘No’ as they were obviously in the middle of a game and doing normal game chat,” one contractor told Motherboard.

The news comes only two weeks after contractors working for Microsoft’s Skype said they had also listened in to users, with the conversations at times being quite intimate. Tech companies such as Microsoft do make it clear that audio might be analyzed, although consumers don’t usually know humans will be listening instead of an artificial intelligence.

This has been a bone of contention of late throughout big tech. Facebook Inc. also was in the spotlight last week after it was revealed that it hired outside contractors to listen to audio conversations on its Messenger app. Facebook has since said that’s stopped now, while Inc., Google LLC and Apple Inc. have all made changes to human analysis of consumer audio.

“We’ve long been clear that we collect voice data to improve voice-enabled services and that this data is sometimes reviewed by vendors,” Microsoft said in a statement. “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 went on to say that permission has always been given somewhere in the terms of service, adding that it tries to “de-identify” such recordings to protect a user’s privacy. Nonetheless, one contractor said he was specifically told during the hiring process not to reveal the nature of the job. Moreover, the fact that these revelations come as a surprise to people could indicate that more clarity is needed.

Image: James_Seattle/Flickr

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