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The Creepy Truth About Your Xbox One Voice Commands

Is your Xbox One listening to you? Well, maybe not so much anymore. But it was, according to contractors at Microsoft who were brought on to review audio recorded by Xbox One consoles, Skype, and more.


In a report from Vice, several contractors tell the tale of how they listened to audio sent home by various Xbox One machines around the country. Some voice clips were people trying to use Kinect voice commands to start games. Others were bits of conversation captured after a voice command was triggered accidentally. Their mission was reportedly to compare what Microsoft thought it heard versus what was actually said in order to make the company's products more accurate. And we suppose the big story is that there are real humans listening to this audio, and to some, that might constitute a serious breach of privacy.

The thing is, the truth was never all that hidden to begin with.

Perhaps we're all too eager now to skip through the Terms of Service and click "Yes," but there are important pieces of information contained in those long, sprawling documents. It may shock you to learn that Microsoft has a dedicated Privacy page that lays out exactly how it uses audio captured from its various devices and services. Here's what it states:


"When you use voice commands with Windows, Cortana, and other cloud-based, voice-enabled products and services from Microsoft, we will collect and store your audio recordings so that we can enhance your experience with better speech recognition and other personalized speech experiences. Microsoft uses your voice command data to improve the ability of its products and services to correctly recognize your pronunciation and speech patterns."

There's even a button on that page that enables you to view and clear your voice data, which serves to further drive the point home. There are recordings of your voice in this section, with speech-to-text translations of what Microsoft thinks you said. Some are humorously wrong ("I'm dragon boat?"). Some are correct (like the ones that show a certain writer yelling at Cortana to go away).

It seems somewhat obvious, given the mission, that humans were going to listen to this audio. They're trying to make the company's cloud brain smarter; having another computer do that job wouldn't really make sense. But people are still shocked. That shows there's a real disparity between what people think they're agreeing to and what's actually happening.

For Xbox One owners, this is no longer an issue. According to Microsoft, the company stopped capturing Xbox One audio "a number of months ago," and Cortana has since been moved off of the platform (thank goodness). But it's something to keep in mind if you use Skype, Cortana on your smartphone, or any other voice-related Microsoft cloud products. Real people are listening to your audio.


So if you click "Yes," be sure that you mean it.