This article was originally published in January 2021, and was reviewed and updated in January 2022.
All three consoles collect personal data, but you can adjust the data-hungry default settings to protect yourself. Of these three, we think the Xbox Series X gives you the most control, allowing you to lock down access to your data to a greater extent than the PS5 or the Switch. Read on for how.
What do video games really cost? First, it was just a quarter. Soon it was a few hundred bucks for a home console and the games of your choosing, and now you’re likely subscribed to an online service (or three)– giving Sony’s PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, and Nintendo’s Switch an all-access pass to valuable personal information. These companies don’t want your pocket change anymore, they want your data. And lots of it.
Why? Depends on who’s looking. Businesses pay anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars for your info, which adds up fast when you’re talking tens of millions of gamers. Aside from the ‘legit’ interest of advertisers and and their ilk, there’s also the risk of cyberattacks, ranging from benign data breaches to targeted hacks on financial information. Your data is only as safe as the company collecting it, and your privacy rights are often set to “wide open” by default.
It helps to know what’s being collected, and how, so we focused on three things to help navigate the privacy and data settings on your console of choice: microphones and cameras, privacy policies and online communities. Along the way we’ll detail the steps you can take to manage your data privacy so you can stay safe and informed on any platform.
First things first: Use two-factor authentication, regardless of platform.
If you’re at all concerned about security, then two-factor authentication (2FA) is a must, no matter your gaming platform preferences. Instead of logging in to an account using only a password, two-factor authentication will also send a verification code via text or email that makes it impossible for someone with a stolen password to access your accounts. These links explain how to set up 2FA for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo.
How to change your microphone and camera settings for PS5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch
When it comes to external hardware, it’s hard to know when you’re being watched. Of all three major consoles, only Sony presents a serious challenge in this regard due to a microphone built into the DualSense, Sony’s PS5 controller. The DualSense mic is always-on by default, and even captures audio anytime a user earns an in-game trophy so it can apply the audio to the clip. Neither Microsoft nor Nintendo include a built-in microphone with their consoles or controllers.
PS5 and Xbox Series X both support external cameras (including ones with mics) that you can attach to the console for streaming. The Switch, including the latest OLED version, does not support cameras, period. Neither Sony nor Microsoft include access to camera settings, nor is it clear what data, if any, may be collected by these devices.
Microsoft announced in 2020 that Xbox consoles will no longer collect voice search data, but to be sure it won’t collect your audio, simply leave your cameras unplugged when you aren’t using them.
On the PS5 side, if you want to disable the trophy audio capture feature, go to Settings → Captures and Broadcasts → Trophies to shut it down.
The PlayStation 5 offers two ways to restrict the entire microphone itself. Disable it altogether by pressing the physical mic button below the PS button on the controller. If it’s orange, it means the mic is off. Or go to Settings → Users and Accounts → Privacy → Voice Data Collection and turn it off. PS5 does not collect voice chat data, but does allow users to generate recordings of online interactions for harassment reports. Sony has clarified, saying these are explicitly used for the reporting process and not any other purpose. But, as we’ve seen in the past, numerous companies have acknowledged listening in on our conversations with their built-in microphones after the fact. At the end of the day, be aware that, even though Sony says it isn’t listening, that it’s still possible. And, like with Xbox, unplug your streaming cameras when not in use to ensure your privacy.
How to update your settings to limit the data you’re sharing when using PS5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch
- Personal Information - any identifying info like you name, age, location, profile name as well as contact info like phone numbers and email addresses.
- Commercial Activity - what products you’ve browsed in any online store, what games you’ve already purchased and installed.
- Player Profile - data about your game play sessions, including achievements and trophies, plus playtime for games and any stats, rankings or enforcement activity.
- Performance Data - information about console performance and error reports.
- Shared Content - anything you create, upload, stream or share could also be collected.
If that seems like a lot of information, it is. None of the companies let you opt-out of sharing your data completely – which means in order to use a Playstation 5, Xbox Series X or Nintendo Switch you will have to accept a user agreement that allows data to be collected.
While Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo do give you some options to limit data collection, the privacy policies reveal just how much data these companies still want to get from you. Here’s how to check your settings for your console, which also apply to streaming services like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass:
Go to Settings → Users and Accounts → Privacy. You’ll see options for Data You Provide and Personalization. For Data You Provide you can choose “full” or “limited.” It doesn’t give specifics on what gets collected, but choosing “limited” keeps behavior data from being collected which includes some info on game playing and purchasing decisions. You can also restrict the amount of marketing data you provide. Disable “Standard Personalization” in the Personalization tab for maximum privacy.
Xbox Series X
Go to Settings → Online Safety & Family → Privacy & Online Safety. Two options here are important: Data Collection and App Privacy. Data Collection allows you to enable “Optional Diagnostic Data” like enhanced error reporting and console performance data, or opt out entirely. App Privacy allows you to adjust third-party marketing data like targeted advertisements or access to your location, email, contacts, and calendar. You can go app by app or disable everything entirely.
Go to Profile Page (icon in upper left of home screen) → User Settings → Nintendo eShop Settings → Account Information and scroll all the way to the bottom for “Google Analytics Preferences.” Change to “Don’t Share” for increased privacy. If you have multiple accounts on your Switch you need to do this for each one. This is the same for the Switch Lite and Switch OLED, too.
How to protect your profile and account from hacking or abuse when gaming online on PS5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch
Online harassment continues to be a blight on gaming which has created the need for robust privacy features. Beyond that, going online with your console opens you up to cyberattacks. Despite their best efforts, all three companies continue to struggle with this. Sony’s online service, PlayStation Network (PSN) saw some EU users have money stolen from their bank accounts. An Xbox Live bug exposed every user’s email. And Nintendo reportedly had 300,000 player profiles breached. Those big hacks get the headlines, but cybersecurity firm Akami has reported there are hundreds of millions of scams each year perpetrated with the information gamers make available on their profiles. Here’s what you can do to increase your privacy and safety when gaming online.
Let’s take it one platform at a time:
PlayStation 5 Online Privacy
Here’s how PSN subscribers can protect themselves while using Sony’s online service. By logging in to the Account Management page, PS5 owners will be able to choose individual settings for Gaming, Friends and Personal Info. Each category contains a few options that allow you to limit who can see your activity: everyone, friends of friends, friends only or no one. If that seems a bit tedious, Sony has introduced four presets for the PS5. Social and Open lets everyone in. Team Player lets anyone see your profile, but only friends or friends of friends can message you. Friend Focused is just that, friends only. And Solo and Focused restricts everyone, even friends, from seeing activity or messaging you.
Xbox Series X Online Privacy
Xbox players using Xbox Live: go to Settings → Account → Xbox Live Privacy → Account Privacy & Online Safety. Similar to Sony, Microsoft has default profiles you can use: in this case, child, teen and adult. As you’d expect, child accounts have the most restrictions and adult accounts have the fewest. You also have the option to adjust settings by selecting “View Details & Customize.” This provides access to a number of settings ranging from visibility of your online status to messaging to multiplayer games. You can only select “Everybody,” “Friends,” or “Block” for the options, no “Friends of Friends” is available.
Nintendo Switch Online Privacy
Nintendo’s online service doesn’t offer much in the way of online game-playing protection. Go to System Settings → Users → Select Profile → User Settings → Play Activity Settings to set who can see the games you’ve played (friends, best friends or no one). That’s it. A companion Parental Settings app places some restrictions on online communication but nothing as robust as what Sony and Microsoft offer.
Mo Mozuch is the former Senior Gaming Editor of the magazine Newsweek.