How the PS5's Chat Recordings May Be Illegal

Sorry, didn't mean to break the law

Key Takeaways

  • The PlayStation 5 will allow users to record party voice chats that can be sent to Sony for moderation purposes.
  • Sony is not listening to or recording your party voice chats.
  • Sony could be opening itself up to legal liability with the new update.
The PS5's create a party option and three friends

Sony’s push to allow PS5 users to record their party chats without other user’s express permission has raised many questions regarding privacy, and could even lead to legal liability for the company down the line, experts say.

Sony’s recent 8.00 update for the PlayStation 4 introduced a pop-up warning players that their voice chats could now be recorded. This prompted many to take to Twitter and other platforms, sharing their disgust at Sony listening in on their private conversations. Sony has since stated that it’s not listening to conversations, but rather, users on the PS5 can record voice chats and send them in for moderation. While Sony may not be actively listening to your party voice chats, some still feel that privacy laws could be threatened.

"Data privacy laws around the world vary, and will likely treat this matter differently depending on their specific requirements," Michael Williams, a Partner at Clym, a company dedicated to helping companies understand privacy laws, said via email. "Sony may be violating two of the best known data privacy laws, GDPR and CCPA."

Privacy Isn’t a Game

According to Williams, the new feature that allows PS5 owners to record their party chats could break the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which states that explicit consent needs to be given to collect personal information, such as voice recordings. In fact, some companies have already fallen prey to breaking the laws put in place by the GDPR.

The Mute All Microphones options is highlighted in the PS4's quick menu

The other law Sony might be breaking is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

"In California, CCPA allows companies to rely on implied consent, but requires a mechanism for consumers to 'opt-out' of data collection," Williams wrote. Sony has already stated via a blog post that it will not allow users to opt-out of the voice recording feature. By not allowing users to opt-out, Williams believes that Sony is setting itself up for legal liability when the feature begins to roll out.

Balancing the Act

While the idea of companies recording you can be daunting, it isn’t necessarily always about the company overstepping its bounds.

"Though balancing these competing values can be challenging, regulators across the globe have primarily prioritized privacy over content moderation," said Williams. 

While Sony’s new push for community moderation might seem a bit weird, most companies tend to err on the side of caution when dealing with privacy laws. With Sony’s move, though, Williams is concerned that Sony is opening itself up to even more possible legal ramifications by allowing recordings without two-party consent.

Sony's chat recording explanation as it appears on the PS4

"Many states in the US ban voice recordings that do not have 'two-party consent'," Williams said over email. He also provided a link to a breakdown of the California Recording Law, which states, "California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation."

Now, Sony isn’t planning to use its moderation system to take people to court, which is where many of these laws really come into play. Still, it’s good to know exactly where your privacy is held in regards to the law. While Sony isn’t expressly listening to your conversations, there are definitely concerns that what the company is doing could break privacy laws, eventually leading to some kind of legal ramification down the line.

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