The corporate vice president of Xbox has told Sky News “there’s no silver bullet” to protect women and minority groups on the internet who experience online harassment and abuse.

Dave McCarthy said it takes just one toxic experience on a platform and “your trust in an online space dissipates immediately, as it should”.

In an interview outlining Microsoft Xbox’s renewed commitment to online safety, Mr McCarthy told Sky News of the tools used by the gaming behemoth to keep children and others safe on its platform.

“This is an ongoing thing that we have to plug away at and we have those tools in place and hold ourselves accountable,” he said.

One of those measures, he says, is the deployment of artificial intelligence, which sifts through billions of messages and images on Xbox’s platform identifying abusive behaviour.

“There are AI solutions deployed in the detection of things like bot accounts that are causing issues,” he said.

Mr McCarthy said Xbox uses various AI learning models, naming ChatGPT as an example of such a machine-based learning function.

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The AI finds abusive bot accounts by identifying patterns of certain behaviour.

But Mr McCarthy stressed the need to “augment” that artificial intelligence with human intelligence as well.

“While those detection algorithms allow us to find the needles in the haystack at scale, we still need humans to validate that those things are going on,” he said.

He said Xbox employ language specialists to work alongside their AI, to identify the latest forms of language and euphemisms used to harass or spread hate online.

Importance of appeals process

Asked why players on the Xbox platform should feel confident their concerns will be heard and acted upon, Mr McCarthy raised the appeals procedure.

“This is going to sound strange, but having an appeals process is actually a strong thing for us, because it shows people that we are listening and we do take multiple looks at things and they do have a course of action,” he said.

“This is a journey that’s never over. We’ve made advances in areas like accessibility and sustainability but it’s the tip of the iceberg in some respects. We’re never done in this space.”

Under amendments to the hotly debated Online Safety Bill, tech bosses could face up to two years in jail for failing to protect children online.

The bill would force managers of platforms hosting user-generated content, to take “proportionate measures” to protect children from harmful material.

Steps to protect children

Mr McCarthy highlighted steps Xbox were taking to protect children, including using its popular Minecraft franchise to educate children on areas such as data protection.

The educational Minecraft Privacy Prodigy programme teaches children how to protect their data and stay safe online.

The initiative follows calls from Alicia Kearns, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday, for Britons to delete the video app popular with children, TikTok, from their phones to prevent alleged Chinese intelligence gathering.

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Why the Online Safety Bill is proving so controversial

The Xbox boss told Sky News that Microsoft was working closely with politicians in the US and UK on legislative safety reforms.

“I had the good pleasure last fall of coming out for Westminster Games Week, which is a very heartening discussion that the industry has with the government.

“My personal experience of regulatory bodies, including the UK, is that they’re very welcoming to the dialogue.”

He called for “great legislation” to make sure big tech reaches the standards it should be meeting.

The Online Safety Bill is currently being scrutinised in the House of Lords, after MPs gave it their approval in January.

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