No, Paris Attackers Didn't Use the PlayStation 4 to Coordinate

An unsubstantiated rumor of the Paris attackers using PlayStation 4s to coordinate the attacks have been been making the news in the past few days. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

As the saying goes, a lie can run around the world before truth can get its pants on, and the the recent Paris attacks have provided a mother lode of tech lies.

One of the most viral has been that the attackers have coordinated the attacks using the popular video game console PlayStation 4 (PS4). As the French and Belgian authorities continue to look for suspects and accomplices, the question of how the killers communicated with one another remains unanswered.

But as many lies go, the speculation started with a grain of truth—and from a very qualified source. Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon went on record at an event hosted by Politico Europe three days before the Paris attacks that the "most difficult communication between these terrorists" to decrypt was via PS4. Jambon made the comment for a panel on Belgium's difficulty cracking down on local terrorism.

Although he was short on specifics, Jambon was likely referring to the Party Chat feature which allows PS4 users to chat with others via text or voice call.

The 22-second sound bite got twisted and turned into several media outlets claiming that the Paris attackers did communicate using the PS4, including one unfounded story saying that authorities seized a PS4 during one of their raids.

This attackers-used-PS4 speculation can mainly be traced to a Forbes report, the author of which told Gizmodo on Monday that he made mistakes and misinterpreted Jambon's statements. After the first round of "reporting" on the rumor, a second round of backlash came from various outlets from Mashable, The Verge and Vice Motherboard.

In light of the rumors, Sony released a statement, saying it is "dedicated to checking behavior and we urge our users and partners to report activities that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal."

This rumor itself may seem insignificant, but it illuminates the larger tension between governments and communication services providing encryption.

Several government leaders, such as United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron, are looking to curb or outright ban encryption services in the name of national security. Bangladesh, it was reported last week, has been mulling banning mobile text apps like WhatsApp and Viber "to prevent terror activities."