PlayStation Party Recording

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The most famous PlayStation Official Logo[1]

Sony's PlayStation is a gaming console that offers Internet gaming from a wide range of game choices and is a common known competitor with Xbox. Other competitors throughout PlayStation's development have included Nintendo products and PC versions of similar games. [2] As a part of their interactive online platform, PlayStation offers parties - a virtual location in which users can play games together and interact via text and voice chat. These are key features of the PlayStation interface and allow for multiplayer games and socialization within the system. Traditionally, the parties have been used for friends (real life or virtual) to spend quality time together playing their favorite games and having conversations. However, this changed due to a recent update for the party system.

The Scandal

In the fall of 2020, PlayStation announced an update that included the ability for parties to be recorded. [3] Sony attempted to keep this part of the update silent, but it quickly gained interest from all Playstation users. Many gamers took to the internet to express their ideas, typically those of discomfort about privacy concerns Consequently, PlayStation issued several statements clarifying their intent to use party recordings only to report Community Guideline violations and protect their users from harmful or inappropriate interactions within the party system. It became a heavily debated topic on many platforms such as Reddit and Twitter, where #PS4Update began trending. [3]

Software Update 8.00

The Announcement

Tweet from user during the time #PS4Update was trending [3]

PlayStation's software update 8.00 led to controversy about privacy and ethics within parties. On October 14th, 2020 PlayStation announced system software update 8.00 to its PS4 system. As announced in the official PlayStation blog, updates included new avatars, the ability to mute all mics, improved parental controls, and dual-factor verification. [4] As the update rolled out, users were quick to jump to social media about a pop-up they received, stating: “Voice chats may be recorded for moderation. By joining, you agree to be recorded.” Many users questioned what this pop-up meant, its implications, and why it was not included in the primary announcement. Twitter user @Tacodog13 replied to the official PlayStation Twitter account with a photo of the announcement and a caption including “So anyone gonna acknowledge this???” [3] Users became increasingly concerned about the implications behind the pop-up message they received.

PlayStation's Reaction

After the initial social media blow-up, PlayStation released an update to its announcement stating that the voice chat recording feature is available on the PS5 and enables individual users to record the parties they participate in and submit them to PlayStation for content moderation. This means by playing in a party with a PS5 user, PlayStation users are consenting that a user may be recording them. Users only have access to the last few minutes of their party and can select a timeframe to submit to PlayStation if they believe there was a legitimate concern with the content being discussed, language being used, etc. within that party. [5]

#PS4Update on Reddit and Twitter

People have communicated on social media that they will turn to Xbox to avoid being recorded.[6]

The update did not favor many. People quickly went to Twitter and Reddit to ridicule Sony’s decision to record the audio of people in party rooms. Comments on the topic ranged from switching over to Xbox to avoid being recorded and jokes about lawyers getting involved. [7] It has been noted in the past that the party forum would be used for inappropriate comments and racial slurs. [8] People fear there may be privacy breaching as well as a collection of data for possible samples.[8]<ref='RedditUpdateDec2020'>Reddit. (2020, December). Update 8.00 discussion and issues mega thread. Retrieved April 9, 2021 from</ref> Reddit threads and mega threads discussed opinions about the new update and quite a few reasons Sony should uninstall the update. In the thread, it was recognized by some that inappropriate dialogue does occur in these PlayStation Parties and they preferred it unsupervised. <ref='RedditUpdateDec2020'></ref>


Catherine Jensen, Vice President of Customer Experience & head of Global Consumer Experience for Sony's PlayStation.[9]


PlayStation clarified that the company itself is not recording parties, but rather it is a choice for individuals who feel that the conversation in question is harmful in some way. In a follow-up blog by the Global Consumer Experience head at PlayStation, Catherine Jensen, it is clarified that the intent is to manage online safety and report inappropriate behavior that violates its conduct code. Jensen ensures that “the feature will not actively monitor or listen in on your conversations” [5]

PlayStation argues that Code of Conduct violations need to have a way to be truthfully reported to maintain online safety. There is no option to opt-out of recording, as PlayStation argues all users should be abiding by safety guidelines and therefore not threatened by the potential implications of the recording -- so long as they're acting appropriately online. People may report content when it violates the code of conduct or if they choose to not interact with the player. Some consequences the player may face are getting blocked, suspended temporarily, or suspended permanently.[10] A few examples stated in the Community Code of Conduct for things not tolerated on PlayStation Network include: not organizing hate groups, not bullying, not sharing racist/offensive media, and many more.[11] Many issues addressed in the Code of Conduct is to ensure PlayStation Network is a safe space for everyone and does not discriminate against people based on their differences.

Privacy Policy

This discussion led users to dig deeper into PlayStation's privacy policy and found contradictory information. In 2013, Sony (the parent company of PlayStation) altered its PS4 Terms and Conditions to allow Sony Playstion and any of its associate companies to monitor activity including: "your UGM [user generated media], the content of your voice and text communications, video of your gameplay, the time and location of your activities, and your name, your PSN Online ID and IP address." [12] Social media users were quick to point out that the party recording notification may not mean it is the first time their parties are being recorded or monitored. PlayStation introduced the pop-up as a means to demonstrate that now it is up to individual players to record parties - something they later apologized for due to lack of clarity. [5] Given users already consented to recording, PlayStation had no legal obligation to inform users using a pop-up format. The pop-up sparked heavy backlash from users - despite being something they had already agreed to. This led to user debate on a popular reddit thread about PlayStation's obligation to disclose the change and whether or not users actually read the privacy policies that they had agreed to in order to be users of PlayStations. [13]


Social media backlash caused #PS4Update to trend after users began seeing the pop-up. Users questioned why PlayStation was not placing a larger emphasis on the recording feature and what exactly "consenting to being recorded" meant. [3] Users were concerned that they would unknowingly be recorded and were unsure of when they were being recorded, by whom, and for what purpose. Although PlayStation clarified that the purpose of the recording feature was for individual safety concerns, users were still skeptical of the way this information had been shared. This raises further legal issues of the ownership of party recordings. Allowing Playstation to record conversations, even if users dictate when recording is taking place, puts personal user information in the hands of Sony or a similar legal issue is that of phone call recording, which has both federal and state guidelines that may vary. [14] As topics of consent and purpose of use arise, phone users may not know that they are being recorded and could potentially face backlash from a recorded conversation if used in a variety of contexts.

In order to maintain transparency with PlayStation users, Jensen shared that if users were to report party recording, they may include up to a 40 second long clip in their report.[5] Also, “the most recent 5 minutes of a Voice Chat will be available for a player to use for this reporting function”.[5] This can ensure some users that they are not being “spied on” because at the most, only 40 seconds can be submitted and not the entire duration of the party recording.

With laws such as those regarding phone conversations, arguments about the responsibility to know the information arise. There are laws in place that require companies to notify customers when collecting user information. When it comes to PlayStation, all users received that pop-up notifying them of party recording. Terms and Conditions often include similar policies that users must agree to in order to use the platform. However, there is no guarantee that the users actually read and understood everything presented to them.

Other social networking companies (Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube) that have experienced backlash similar to that seen by PlayStation when changing their Terms and Conditions.[15]

Terms and Conditions

One of the primary methods modern companies use as a method for notifying customers/users of privacy and security policies is through this "Terms and Conditions" document. They exist as a requirement for essentially every platform or service, yet consumers never actually take the time to internalize the information. This is primarily because these documents are incredibly long and hard to read, even for expert lawyers. [16] These documents play roles in countless modern ethical debates. It is within these agreements that companies can conceal some of their less appealing data collection habits without customers finding out. Social media companies like Facebook have received backlash for changing their terms and conditions without proper warnings. However, they have also been ridiculed heavily after openly releasing the changes they would make because users weren't happy with the changes being made. [17] This is an example of the predicament many companies are in. The dynamic between companies and consumers when it comes to data privacy continues to lack trust. Additionally, users are starting to take it upon themselves to be aware of changes to privacy policies. While this process is still very labor-intensive, it functions as a way to keep companies in check. Terms and Conditions documents have always served this purpose, but as the public continues to adjust to the increasing availability of personal information, these documents are becoming essential pieces of evidence in ethical debates.

While the 8.00 Software Update caused many PlayStation users to joke about suing the company for privacy violations, Sony added a “no-sue” clause to its end-user license agreement (EULA) during a 2011 update to PS3.[18][19] Users even took action against the PlayStation parent company by suing Sony for their addition of a “no-sue” clause in Fineman v. Sony Network Entertainment. The case was later dismissed by a US District Judge that granted Sony’s request to have the case dismissed after concluding that the users had “failed to allege facts or articulate a theory on which Sony may be held liable”.[19]

Timing and Issue Awareness

The PlayStation announcement timing - Fall 2020 - coincided with a larger focus on data ethics and transparency headed by then President, Donald Trump. Trump began a campaign to ban TikTok and WeChat in the United States for invasion of privacy and data collection from US citizens and the battle continued on for many weeks. [20] TikTok and WeChat were targeted by former President Trump because he believed the data collected by these two Chinese-owned applications were being used to promote the Chinese Communist Party and collect personal information about American users. [20]

Content Moderation

The main reason Sony introduced audio recording of Playstation parties was for content moderation. A Sony representative explained that individual users are now able to submit an audio recording from a party they were in to Sony for review by their content moderation board, who will listen to the recording and determine whether it violates the Playstation Community Code of Conduct. [21] Users have taken to social media to complain about this new feature because they feel it is their right to make "off color jokes" or talk about "freaky stuff" on Playstation's party platform without fear of others hearing it.[21] Playstation's Community Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits promotion of hate speech, bullying, stalking, sexual content, and racist content, among many other regulations.[22]

Content moderation is a controversial topic among communities of lawyers and academics. Some believe that content moderation on private platforms is essential to protect users, while others believe that content moderation can shut down important conversations about sensitive topics and therefore should not be used by private companies. [23] While Playstation's method of empowering users to report misconduct is far different from moderation from outside parties or from algorithms, academics still question whether private companies can control free speech. Legislatively, these organizations, as private entities, have no obligation or responsibility to uphold the First Amendment, which is limited to government action regulation.[24] Therefore, the ability to censor user content on such platforms is entirely legal.

Playstation is far from the only platform to receive criticism for their content moderation practices. YouTube faced criticism for removing LGBTQ content from their platform in restricted mode. Both Facebook and Youtube have removed evidence of police brutality from their platforms. Because of instances like these and the harm they can cause, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that private companies should not have the power to create proprietary content moderation rules and regulations. [25]

Data from research study conducted by Ditch the Label & Habbo on bullying within online gaming environments.[26]

Section 230

Although the debate of content moderation of platforms is highly controversial, a 2017 study found that 74% of individuals believe cyberbullying on social networking platforms should be taken more seriously by the organizations that host such online communities.[26][27] Given that at least 57% of young people have experienced cyberbullying when playing games online, many believe tech companies like PlayStation and Sony must take responsibility for the dialogue occurring on their platforms.[27] Some users are calling for the physical organization to be held accountable whereas some claim that the organizations should be holding their users accountable for violations of community guidelines.[28]

However, Section 230 exempts organizations from taking responsibility for the content user’s distribute on their platform.[24][29] For PlayStation, this means the company cannot legally be held liable for violent or harmful content that is spread on their platforms nor do they have an obligation to hold users accountable for such actions. This law also explicitly grants social networking platforms the legal right to moderate user content when they choose to do so.[29] In the case of voice recordings of PlayStation parties, this means PlayStation can pick and choose which content they believe violates their guidelines without having to explain their reasoning behind it.

This reality has generated bipartisan discussion from politicians, including both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, in their criticism of Big Tech; they argue that Section 230 must be tweaked, restricted, or scrapped entirely.[29]

Other Instances of Technology Privacy Invasion

How are companies invading our personal privacy? [30]

The Playstation privacy scandal is one of many issues of privacy that exist in the tech industry today. As the tech industry has grown, so have concerns about potential privacy invasion. From being spied on through the camera of one's laptop to phones eavesdropping, the issues are plentiful and relevant. A recent article noted that roughly six of ten Americans believe that it is not possible to go through a day without having their data collected [31] However, extremely few Americans actually read privacy policies before agreeing to them. One of the common issues that people notice with privacy concerning their phones is that people often notice receiving ads for things they recently had conversations about. But is this simply a coincidence or actually an issue of privacy? An article from USA today notes that when a smartphone user uses the default settings, everything you say can be recorded through your phone's microphone. [32] Users can edit these settings to disable this feature, but the majority are unaware of its existence. The same issues that occur on phones have been noted to occur with Amazon Alexa devices and Google Home devices, notoriously known for eavesdropping on people. Alike to Playstation claiming they record parties to improve content moderation, tech companies have said they listen in purely to improve the capabilities of their devices. Some companies have noted that they will reduce a users privacy to reduce costs of the device and to make it smaller. [33] Additionally, tech companies have hired workers to review audio that is heard on devices which has increased concerns further. Another common privacy concern has been if others are able to spy on you through the cameras of your devices. Although large tech companies harvest their users' data, they also put forth much effort to ensure no one else has access to the data. In the past, hackers have successfully infiltrated people's devices, gaining access to their cameras, microphones, and personal data. [34] Overall, users must decide how best to protect themselves from privacy invasion and what they are willing to risk to use new technologies.


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