Sony has published new details about the PlayStation 5’s recording of voice chats, after the company appeared to be caught flat-footed earlier this week when it released the latest PlayStation 4 system software update and users caught wind of the feature unexpectedly.
“We didn’t clearly communicate this feature or explain why we were introducing it, and we apologize for that,” Catherine Jensen, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s vice president for global consumer experience, said in a PlayStation Blog post on Friday afternoon.
Following the release of PS4 system software version 8.00 on Wednesday, players began seeing a notification and a message on the console regarding its party chat feature. Titled “About Party Safety,” the note said, “Please be aware that voice chats in parties may be recorded and sent to us by other users. By participating in voice chats, you agree to your voice being recorded.” The message also noted, “These recordings will be used only for safety and moderation purposes by PlayStation Safety.”
Sony later updated its PlayStation Blog post about the v8.00 firmware to acknowledge the “About Party Safety” message and notification, explaining that the recording feature would be available exclusively on PS5 when the console launches on Nov. 12. The update also said that the feature would allow users to submit the recordings to Sony for moderation purposes. But the entire episode raised eyebrows among the PlayStation community, especially with respect to privacy concerns, leading Sony to publish further details on Friday.
All PlayStation users can file reports about abusive players that they encounter online, but only PS5 users will have the ability to submit a voice chat clip along with a report. Jensen clarified that PS5 users and PS4 users will be able to chat in parties together, which necessitated the notice in Wednesday’s PS4 firmware update for a feature that Sony evidently intended to explain later.
“If a PS5 player needs to file a harassment report, they will be able to include up to a 40 second-long Voice Chat clip in their report — 20 seconds of the main conversation with the other player, plus an additional 10 seconds before and after the conversation selection,” said Jensen. “Only the most recent five minutes of a Voice Chat will be available for a player to use for this reporting function.”
Recording is enabled by default on PS5, and users won’t have the ability to disable it.
“There won’t be an option to opt-out of this Voice Chat recording function because we want all users to feel safe when playing with others online, not just those who choose to enable it,” said Jensen. However, Jensen emphasized that “this feature will not actively monitor or listen in on your conversations — ever.” Instead, the recording capability is reserved only for capturing audio to accompany reports of abuse or harassment.
It sounds like the PS5 will maintain a running recording of the last five minutes of chat, but that only a user can initiate the process of sending the audio to Sony. What remains unclear is whether the recording functionality applies for all voice chat, including in-game chat, or is limited to party chat alone. (If players hear harassment or abuse online, it tends to come from random people with whom they get thrown into a multiplayer match — rather than a person they’ve invited into a party chat.) We’ve asked Sony for clarification, and we’ll update this article with any information we receive.
PS5 users will be able to submit these reports directly from the console. They’ll go to the Consumer Experience division at PlayStation, where moderators will review the complaint, listen to the recording, and take action if appropriate.
The PlayStation Community Code of Conduct prohibits hate speech, whether using or promoting it; threatening, bullying, harassing, or stalking anyone; encouraging anyone to hurt themselves or someone else; or being “vulgar or offensive,” among other rules.
But behavior that merits a sanction, versus that which may just be edgy or in poor taste, is not always going to be a clear-cut case. “Some submitted reports won’t be valid, and our team will take this as an opportunity to provide guidance and education,” Jensen said.