Last week, Sony pushed out version 8.00 of the PS4 firmware. While you might expect updates this late in the console’s lifecycle to be tinkering around the edges, this patch brought in something that caused some alarm in the community: a warning now flashes up telling players that their chats may be recorded.
Understandably this caused some alarm amongst players. Is Sony planning on eavesdropping on all PS4 and PS5 conversations? No, no it isn’t.
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The company has written a blog post explaining the update, and the long and short of it is this: Sony won’t actively be listening to your chats, but if you say something that breaks PlayStation’s terms of service, then anybody who heard it can report you and the offending clip so Sony can decide if you were out of line.
“We didn’t clearly communicate this feature or explain why we were introducing it, and we apologize for that,” writes Catherine Jensen, VP of global consumer experience at Sony Interactive entertainment. “When the PS5 console launches in November, PS5 users will be able to chat with PS4 users – which is why we needed to include an advisory with the latest PS4 system update.”
So, in short, it’s a PS5 feature that needed some cross compatibility with PS4. On the new console, players will be able to include a 40-second clip to send to Sony’s moderations. This comprises 20 seconds of the main conversation, plus ten seconds either side for context. Players will only be able to send in clips from the last five minutes of voice chat, so they’ll have to respond quite quickly to harassment.
Once sent through, Sony moderators will listen, and take action if needed — even if the action is to tell the player submitting the report that no transgressions were committed.
The key thing here is that it’s not a proactive solution where Sony will actively be listening out for abusive behavior. “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 writes.
There is no way for players to opt out of this for a fairly obvious reason: if abusive players could opt out of being recorded, then they could be as offensive as they liked with no record of their behavior, and no way of Sony taking action.
While some will be concerned about the privacy implications, it doesn’t sound like a huge breach to us. If you’re playing with strangers, then some form of accountability is important: we know that anonymity can bring out the worst in players, and having a toxic environment just makes online gaming miserable for everyone. Hopefully this little change will make online gaming on PS5 that bit more enjoyable than it has been on past hardware generations.