When you first fire up your shiny new game console – whether it be the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X – you’ll go through a wizard that determines some baseline security and privacy settings. But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, both consoles have a host of nitty-gritty tweaks you can make that determine who can use your console, what other people can see about you online, and what games your kids are allowed to play. Here’s what to look for.
PlayStation 5 – Login and Security
During setup, your PS5 will recommend that you set a passcode so that other people can’t use the console with your account. However, it doesn’t actually give you the option to do this during the wizard, instead just telling you to do so from Settings later on.
If you were too excited to get into a game and forgot to adjust these preferences, head to Settings > Users and Accounts > Login Settings and choose Set a PS5 Login Passcode. You can also choose to log in to your PS5 automatically here, though that decreases your security somewhat, if you’re worried about others accessing your console.
This Users and Accounts page has a number of other security and privacy settings, too. Under the Account tab, choose Security to change your password, set a security question, and turn on 2-step verification. (Unfortunately, Sony only offers 2-step verification via SMS – there’s no option for more secure and convenient authenticator apps.)
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Under Payment and Subscriptions, you can choose to require a password for purchases made on your console, and in Communication Settings you can turn off two options to stop receiving emails from Sony and its partners.
PlayStation 5 – Privacy and Social Settings
The PS5 will give you an option between a few social privacy presets when you first set it up (like “Social and Open,” “Team Player,” or “Friend Focused”) but if you want to change those settings, you can do so from the Settings.
Head to Settings > Users and Accounts > Privacy to see these options. Select Adjust Privacy Settings by Choosing a Profile to change your preset, or click View and Customize Your Privacy Settings to drill down and customize individual options. You can change:
- Who can find you in search results, within games, in friend lists, or as friend suggestions
- Who can see your friends
- Who can see your online status, what you’re currently playing, and what games you’ve played in the past
- Who can send you friend requests, party requests, and messages
- Which players are blocked from communicating with you
From the Privacy tab, you’ll also see options to limit data collection and targeted ads.
Finally, if you’d prefer to appear offline (so others don’t bug you with messages while you’re gaming), head to the home screen, highlight your profile picture in the upper-right corner, and change your Online Status to Appear Offline.
If you have little ones in the house, you may want to set some parental controls so they can’t access games and features you’d rather they not see. From Settings > Family and Parental Controls > Family Management, you can sign in to your child’s account. If they don’t have one yet, you’ll be directed to the Parental Controls section of Sony’s site on your PC. You’ll need a valid email address for their account (annoyingly), with which you can:
- Restrict games, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs to certain ratings
- Allow or deny usage of PlayStation VR
- Restrict chatting and messaging with other players
- Provide a monthly spending limit
- Restrict playtime to certain hours of the day and lengths of time
Kids can also request access to specific games above their age level, which you can approve or deny from this hub.
From Settings > Family and Parental Controls > Console Restrictions, you can close loopholes that would allow your kid to get around these blocks – like preventing new users from being created, or preventing people from logging in as guests.
Xbox Series X – Login and Security
When you first start up your console and go through the initial wizard, you’ll be given some “Sign-in & Security Preferences” that determine how much effort it takes to sign in and buy things on your console. Using a passkey is going to be the best balance between security and convenience, though you can choose to lock things down further if you want.
To access these settings later, open the Settings app and head to the Account tab. Select Sign-in, Security & Passkey to create a passkey and change your sign-in settings.
I do highly recommend enabling two-factor authentication for your Microsoft account, if you haven’t already. To do so, open a browser on your computer, log into your Microsoft account, and head to your Security Settings. Scroll down and click the Set up two-step verification link. I highly recommend using an authenticator app like Authy rather than getting a code over SMS – it’s more secure, and allows you to sync your codes between multiple devices.
Xbox Series X – Privacy and Social Settings
For more privacy-focused settings – particularly those pertaining to your Microsoft Account and Xbox friends – head to Settings > Account > Privacy & Online Safety. Here, you can adjust a few things:
- Xbox Live Privacy: This menu allows you to decide who can see if you’re online, who can see what you’re watching and playing, who can see your profile and add you as a friend, and so on. There are a lot of settings here, so you can set an overarching set of defaults (like “Adult” or “Teen”) or dig in and customize them one-by-one by choosing View Details & Customize. There’s also a Contact Preferences menu here, where you can turn off email offers from Microsoft and its partners.
- App Privacy: These settings determine what apps can do with your data – like whether they can send targeted advertisements, view your location, use your camera and microphone, and access your email, contacts, and calendar. You can turn any of these permissions off entirely or adjust it app-by-app.
- Message Safety: If you’d like to filter offensive words or images from messages you receive, you can adjust those settings here.
- Data Collection: Here, you can block or allow Microsoft to collect diagnostic and usage data about the console to improve the experience for others.
Finally, from Settings > Account, you can also link social accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and Discord – or choose to keep them unlinked.
If you have young kids in the house, it may behoove you to set up some parental controls so they aren’t watching R-rated movies and playing violent games without your consent (though you can allow individual games above their age rating if you so choose.) You can adjust these by going to Settings > Account> Family Settings, where you’ll find:
- My Sign-in, Security & Passkey: These are the same account security settings described earlier in this guide. You’ll probably want that passkey to keep your kids out of your account.
- Manage Family Members: Here you can add new family members and adjust what those family members are allowed to see and do. (Annoyingly, they’ll each need their own Microsoft Account for this.)
- Family on the Web: This takes you to the Microsoft Family Safety web page in Edge, where you can adjust content-related settings and set up features like Find Your Family, if you want to track their location on a phone.
- Signed-Out Restrictions: If you anticipate other people using your Xbox, you can head to Settings > System > Signed-Out Content Restrictions and create a Guest Key. This allows people who aren’t signed in to access content you choose – without your kids being able to get around parental controls by signing out.
As you’re adjusting these settings, take a look at that box on the right – it’ll let you know if there are any “workarounds” your kids might be able to use to get around your restrictions. Once that pane is full of green checkboxes, your console is sufficiently locked down.
Which Platform Does It Better?
Both consoles offer a number of options for tweaking your security and privacy on their respective platforms. After digging through both, though, I’d have to say Xbox offers more fine-grained controls – which isn’t surprising, given the fact it has a bigger company at its helm, who specializes in these types of things.
The Xbox allows more options for logging into your console, and supports two-factor authentication with apps like Authy – something I really wish Sony also offered as an alternative to SMS. It also offers more privacy features, so you can fine-tune things a bit more deeply – especially when it comes to what third-party apps can do. (I didn’t find any app privacy options on the PS5 – but then again, you don’t have email, contacts, and calendars on your Sony account, either). I also liked that Microsoft offers the ability to customize how offensive text and images are filtered from messages, and that it provided a little “cheat sheet” for parental controls, ensuring you haven’t left any workarounds for young rascals to exploit.
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That said, the sheer number of options Microsoft offers can also be a bit confusing, especially since many of those menus are accessible from multiple places in Settings, PlayStation’s settings are a bit more straightforward – I’d personally rather have more options, but I have to hand it to Sony for making a more easily navigable menu.
Settings are just one part of the equation, though. Remember that both companies reserve the right to monitor your communications over their services, as laid out in their privacy statements (PlayStation here, Xbox here). Both also allow users to record voice chats and send them to the company for offensive content, and both default to more lax privacy settings if you don’t change things during setup. In other words, I wouldn’t call either service a bastion of privacy – Microsoft in particular has been known to be a bit overzealous with its data collection, whether in Windows or in services like Skype, though the company did recently stop collecting voice data from search and text-to-speech features. Depending on where your priorities lie, Microsoft’s privacy reputation may outweigh the increased number of settings it gives you for controlling what other users and apps can see.
Ultimately, the security and privacy features aren’t likely to be the deciding factor in which platform you choose – but if nothing else, it’s good to know the options available to you when you first launch your new console. You’re probably itching to get gaming right away, but take a few minutes to dig through settings. That way, you can make sure everything’s tweaked to your liking before you get knee-deep in the next Call of Duty.