Sony clarifies it will not be listening to your conversation on the PS4 or PS5

Cal Jeffrey

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In context: Last week, Sony rolled out version 8.0 of its PlayStation operating system. The update was less than smooth, with many players reporting that the software was causing their system to freeze. Another aspect of the patch that raised a ruckus was the new voice chat recording feature.

After installing version 8.0 of the PlayStation system software, many PlayStation 4 users noticed notifications stating that voice chats were now being recorded for moderation purposes.

Sony failed to mention or explain this recording functionality in the patch notes, so many players were up in arms about this apparent invasion of privacy. After all, who wants Sony listening to your every conversation as you are talking with friends? As it turns out, that is not quite how it works.

Shortly after the backlash started, Sony's Senior Director of Content Communications Sid Shuman explained that the functionality is not available on the PlayStation 4 but is meant for the PS5. However, it needed the advisory popup on the PS4 since users on both systems can communicate via voice chat.

"Following this update, users are seeing a notification about Party Safety and that voice chats in parties may be recorded," Shuman said in an update to Sony's version 8.0 announcement. "Voice chat recording for moderation is a feature that will be available on PS5 when it launches, and will enable users to record their voice chats on PS5 and submit them for moderation review. The pop up you're seeing on PS4 right now is to let you know that when you participate in a chat with a PS5 user (post-launch), they may submit those recordings from their PS5 console to SIE."

However, Shuman's statement did little to quell the discontent among fans. Regardless of which console has the functionality, the point people were trying to make was, Sony should not be listening in on their conversations—even for moderation purposes.

The blowback continued until Friday when SIE's Vice President of Global Consumer Experience Catherine Jensen issued a statement detailing the feature's purpose and functionality in more precise terms.

Sony will not actively listen in on users, nor will their conversations be fully recorded. Instead, the PlayStation 5 will keep a rolling five-minute recording of party voice chats. If a player experiences abuse or harassment, he or she can submit a complaint to PlayStation moderators. In the filing, users can include a snippet of up to 40-seconds of the offending conversation. The feature will tack on an additional 10-seconds to the clip's front and end for added context. So submitted portions of voice chats will be no longer than one minute.

"Please note that this feature will not actively monitor or listen in on your conversations – ever – and it's strictly reserved for reporting online abuse or harassment," Jensen stressed in her statement. "These reports can be submitted directly through the PS5 console, and will be sent to our Consumer Experience team for moderation, who will then listen to the recording and take action, if needed."

Jensen also acknowledged the potential for abuse and stated that the Consumer Experience team would use invalid reports as an "opportunity to provide guidance and education." In other words, Sony will likely kindly warn those using the reporting system abusively before dropping the ban hammer on them.

Image credit: Natanael Ginting

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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,582   +6,093
But just because they aren't listening doesn't mean that nobody else is ...... I wonder how these systems hold up against "Stringray" that law enforcement uses despite requiring a Federal warrant, which they rarely ever bother to get ......

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,630   +614
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I mean it is possible that Sony is blowing smoke about it, but I kinda doubt it is lying about how the system works. I mean if they were and that came out, that would be a pretty big legal issue. So I have little doubt it works as advertised. In fact, it's not dissimilar to the video-sharing feature on the PS4. That keeps a rolling 15-minute block of video that you can access at any time. Then you can trim it, to just the part you want and share the clip to social media. This works exactly the same way except it's only capturing 5-minutes of audio and sharing it with Sony mods. other than that, it is basically the same tech.

I do see the potential for abuse with it. Trolls could provoke misconduct from others then falsely report them, but I think that is why the system appends 10 seconds before and after submitted clips. That way mods can get more context and see if the comment being reported was provoked or was in any other way excusable.

It seems like a pretty good system for times when you get a creep in chat. I mean they already have a reporting system for text chat, why not one for voice chat? I think for the most part it won't get used as much since voice chat parties usually consist of friends that you know, whereas you can get random chats from about anybody (I get scammers dinging me a few times a month). But still nice to have there if you ever need it.