It seems that Microsoft has appeared to have been caught having their contractors listening to audio clips, as Vice’s Motherboard recently reported.
Like all the other revelations about tech giants getting their contractors and employees to listen in to voice assistant recordings – they’ve been coming at a steady clip since April – the purpose is once again to improve a device’s voice recognition.
Xbox audio is supposed to be captured following a voice command, such as “Xbox” or “Hey Cortana,” but contractors told Motherboard that the recordings are sometimes triggered and recorded by mistake.
Motherboard talked to several people who’ve worked on Xbox audio. One was a former contractor for Microsoft who did so from 2014 to 2015, shortly after Xbox One launched in 2013 with the option of being controlled by voice comments with the Kinect system. Cortana was implemented into the Xbox console in 2016.
The voice analysis continued with the implementation of Cortana. The current contractor shared a memo from Microsoft that tells workers how to work with Cortana audio, including Xbox control commands.
A domain for controlling gaming features, such as finding friends lists, creating a ‘party,’ inviting players to a party. Most Xbox controlling will belong to this domain.
The domain is one of the topics that contractors who transcribed Cortana audio would sort clips into as they worked to improve the system, and after a while, fewer accidental recordings were picked up. But it didn’t stop recordings altogether from being picked up.
In light of this, it caused Microsoft to react, and recently, a spokesperson told Motherboard that the company recently stopped listening to Xbox audio for the most part, but that the company has always been upfront about the practice in 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. 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.