Xbox One, Kinect Present a Bundle of Privacy Concerns

A number of troubling concerns have cropped up after the reveal of the Xbox One, but possibly the most worrisome is the required, always-on Kinect sensor that comes with the console.

As Microsoft explained during the reveal event, Kinect is key to the functionality of Xbox One. In fact, it’ll be required to use the console. And it allows you to control a number of functions using voice commands and hand gestures, so we can expect it to be an extremely sensitive piece of equipment. According to Microsoft, Kinect will have the ability to recognize the voices of different users and customize your Xbox One experience to you specifically when you power it on. As you walk into the room and say “Xbox, on,” for example, the console might remember you were last playing a game and load it up for you.

The presentation showed users fast-switching between different apps on the Xbox One using only voice commands, and even controlling menus with hand gestures in the air in front of the console. To hear Microsoft tell it, the Kinect is a powerful camera and voice sensor with a number of different functions.

But with the Xbox One’s new Kinect come a number of potential problems and worries. To start, the Kinect is always listening for specific voice cues, even when the device is off: specifically, the words “Xbox, on.” That in and of itself might not be too troubling — Microsoft Corporate Vice President Phil Harrison told Eurogamer the Kinect listens only for those specific cues and sends no information back to Microsoft, so you might not need to worry so much about the company listening in on you — but it does start to lead to greater implications.

Namely, those implications are that data about you can be gathered by the Xbox One and sent back to Microsoft incredibly easily, all the time.

A Camera on Your Life

The Kinect is essentially a video camera. It uses certain portions of the light spectrum to allow for reading and mapping your motions in 3-D space, which can then be translated into game input. But it also functions as a standard video camera capable of capturing images and relaying them to your screen. We’ve seen this with the original Kinect, which already supports features such as video chat, and the Xbox One’s integration of Skype suggests you’ll see more useful, potentially more ubiquitous video capture features.

When your Xbox One is on, the Kinect is on (and even when your Xbox One is off, the Kinect is still listening). It must be connected to the console for the console to work, Microsoft has said. And when it’s on, it is both listening to you and watching you, which allows you to control the Xbox One in a number of ways or input controls into games.

But we know that Microsoft has at least thought about using the Kinect for other functions. A patent filed last year, for example, suggests the Kinect could be used to take inventory of how many people are in a room when you rent a movie on your Xbox One’s digital marketplace, and charge you more if there are too many participants.

Understand, that patent may never be put into effect: Tech companies file patents all the time for technology they never end up developing, and often just keep patents filed to sell licenses to other companies when they develop new technologies. So this filing is by no means a confirmation that the Kinect is going to be helping Microsoft charge you more for having too many people watching a movie.

But the patent does suggest the sensor can gather data on the situation in your living room and apply that data in real time to your transaction. Beyond the frustrations of that particular example situation above, it begs the question of what other data the Kinect camera will be gathering, or could be gathering.

The sensor is so powerful, Microsoft claims it can take your pulse. If so, surely it can see the label on the can of soda you’re drinking, or the brand stenciled on your T-shirt.

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17 Comments on Xbox One, Kinect Present a Bundle of Privacy Concerns

Luther

On May 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

There is no way I’ll be buying one that’s for sure.

Axetwin

On May 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm

In my opinion, the privacy rights will be determined by one simple question. Will the XBone still work if the camera is covered up? If I’m playing a non-Kinect focused game, will the system suspend all activity if I cover up the camera? More importantly, if the XBone is “off” and I cover up the camera, will the machine turn itself on just to tell me to uncover the camera?

These two things will be the tell-tale signs of what Microsoft’s intent is with the making the Kinect mandatory.

Xbox dONE

On May 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I won’t be buying one either. all that noise.

T Wal

On May 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

@Axetwin: Now that right there is a good question…that sure would be more than a little incriminating if you covered up the camera and the Xbox said “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave…”

gasmaskangel

On May 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm

It’s amazing that everything I read about the Xbone makes me more and more determined to never have one darken my door. You’d think they’d have at least one thing that I both care about and doesn’t cheese me off.

Also, what did we do to make Microsoft think that anyone actually liked the kinect? I don’t remember them selling that well, but them it’s possible that I’m completely dead wrong.

Soulseller

On May 25, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I can see the Kinect being used by Microsoft to collect viewing data (i.e. number of people watching, are they looking away/talking,happy/sad, even arousal level/heart rate) to sell to advertisers and TV companies. This
would be another reason why the once every 24HR check in would be necessary. A Microsoft executive has already said biometric data collected would be used for research and development purposes but would
not be individually identifiable.

Derek

On May 25, 2013 at 10:40 pm

How can I trust Microsoft’s to not record my conversations or video of my family room and send it to their servers when they were just caught red handed reading people’s Skype conversations which they had claimed were encrypted end-to-end?

I don’t care if its for anonymous data mining, targeted advertising, or to help find criminals. There is no way in hell I would ever allow a product like that in my house if the camera and microphone couldn’t be disabled.

SevenCell

On May 25, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Just slap a picture of Justin Bieber in front of the camera and use the controller.

quicktooth

On May 26, 2013 at 2:19 am

Big Brother is actually watching. It’s soul crushing that it’s not some dictatorship imposing this on people, but a for-profit corporation that thinks it can actually SELL it to people. That implies people will actually opt in. We don’t give doctors, nurses, or anyone else this much access to this much of our lives. And doctors and nurses and so on have professional associations and accreditation that keeps track of whether they abuse your information. Microsoft has- shareholders that demand it turns a profit. You have to be specially talented somehow to fall for this scam. No one should have that much power or access. As an aside, imagine if this was some major government doing this. Think about how you’d react. Now remember this corporation has NO interest in you personally, and that their anti-consumer stance and greed-as-motivation are well known.

lol

On May 26, 2013 at 4:47 am

Hmmmm. So gamers don’t mind posting endlessly about their worthless lives on Facebook or showing their d*cks to children on Chatroulette on a daily basis, but now all of a sudden their concerned about privacy when Microsoft’s involved. Presumably if it was EA they’d be even more minstrel about it. XD

Show me a survey that says the majority oppose Xbox One. Until then we can assume that everyone else likes it and GameFail (l)users are just crying again cos there still butthurt over ME3. llolollol

Shyfty

On May 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

This is some serious “conspiracy theory” right here. Why not mention that the NSA has the capabilities of monitoring all internet data streams, and could use the xobx protocols to listen in on your living room – spying on you every day, listening for key words and waiting to kick in your door.

How bout we waiting for some actual freaking info before we start all this BS about what the Xbox One is actually all about.

Bercilak

On May 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm

This monstrous invader of privacy will NEVER find its way into my living room. Screw you, Microsoft.

quicktooth

On May 27, 2013 at 2:22 am

@lol- A good point! Except that I don’t use Facebook, twitter, tumbler, and so on. And I haven’t heard of Chatroulette, and wouldn’t expose myself under any circumstances anyway. Because I don’t want to shove all my private stuff out into the world for all to see. Also (although this is a bit of a cop out), I’d like to mention I know a number of people who use facebook etc ONLY to arrange meetings, and DON’T put up extensive and banal accounts of their daily lives. I don’t use it at all, because of it’s terrible history of protecting user data. I’m so happy you’re not (only) rampantly embarrassing yourself at all times now! Thanks for joining the conversation.

Michael

On May 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

What gamers should do is pack a bag and head to E3 and protest outside its the only way we will get heard. With signs saying:

WE THE CONSUMER THAT HAS BEEN KEEPING YOUR BUSINESS AFLOAT WILL REQUIRE THE FOLLOWING FEATURES.

1.NO KINECT
2.NO BLOCKING USED GAMES
3.NO DRM
4.NO BLOCKING BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY
5.NO BLOCKING PSN AND LIVE PURCHASES
6.NO ALWAYS ONLINE
7.NO CAMERAS
8.NO TV
9.NO BLOCKING INDIE DEVELOPMENT
10.RELEASE NEW GAMES

R-man

On May 29, 2013 at 7:44 am

@Lol… You can look up a couple polls on google… and all the polls I’ve seen thus far have shown a majority oppose the Xbox One or just prefer other options over the XOne… Also, I don’t have Facebook because it’s useless to me and I began to be not so comfortable with all the possible privacy concerns.

http://www.digitalspy.com/gaming/news/a484584/xbox-one-vs-ps4-poll-which-is-your-most-anticipated-next-gen-console.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/poll-will-you-buy-an-xbox-one-or-playstation-4-2013-5
http://www.gamespot.com/forums/topic/29396535/xbox-one-or-playstation-4-poll
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=71b_1369812232
http://www.redmondpie.com/ps4-vs-xbox-one-which-next-gen-console-are-you-excited-about-the-most-poll/

FW

On July 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

This is a well-written article, and more needs to be said about this. MS has backed off the DRM and required internet connection, but for me that was a small concern. Kinect is a much bigger concern. I will not allow my children to be subjected to data collection and targeted advertising from the moment they are born. I have no interest in switching quickly from TV to music to games, as I already have other tech that plays those things and I still have a 10-second attention span. I have no need for Skype, and I will not invite both Skype and MS, both of whom were outed in the NSA scandal, into my living room so easily.

In short, I have been a long-time and loyal Xbox customer, but I will buy no console that requires me to connect a monitoring device to play. I’m switching to PS4 unless the Kinect requirement is dropped, end of story.

Rose

On August 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Open the pod bay doors, Hal!