Video Games

Xbox One Kinect Stirring Privacy Worries About Microsoft

The newest Xbox can see you in the dark


not quite so realistic yet

It's been eight years since the start of the roll out of seventh generation video games consoles with the release of Microsoft's Xbox 360. Back in 2005, the biggest (non-graphic) technological advances in the games were things like wireless controllers, the ability to play and even shop online, and an early version of motion detection. This time around, Microsoft's motion-detection device, the Xbox One's Kinect, is raising new privacy concerns. Gamerant explains:

"Xbox On." With those two words, Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi seemingly changed gamers' perception of motion control cameras, and how they can interact with them.

Up until that point, the Kinect had been almost like an opt-in service, where the player needed to turn on their console before the device did its little head nod and then sprung into action. The Xbox One's version of Kinect, however, appeared to be a bit more "aware" – springing to life even while the console was seemingly powered down. It was almost as if the Kinect was watching and waiting until it was called upon.

This singular feature instantly called into question the idea of privacy, something that has plagued the Kinect for quite some time. If such a device could stay active even while the console was offline, what else was it doing?

The Kinect's ability to collect and store data about its surrounding has led the privacy commissioner in Germany to express concerns about it being a "monitoring device." Microsoft, for its part, insists it respects users' privacy. Via Kotaku:

Microsoft is now seeking to calm concerns that the new Kinect might spy. "We are designing the new Kinect with simple, easy methods to customize privacy settings, provide clear notifications and meaningful privacy choices for how data will be used, stored and shared," the Microsoft rep told me.

"We know our customers want and expect strong privacy protections to be built into our products, devices and services, and for companies to be responsible stewards of their data. Microsoft has more than ten years of experience making privacy a top priority. Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and built with strong privacy protections in place and the new Kinect will continue this commitment. We'll share more details later."

Kotaku also explains the difference between this iteration of the Kinect and Microsoft's last one:

The Xbox 360's Kinect was easy to baffle or block. Players had a leg up on it and could easily maintain their privacy. The sensor didn't have to be plugged in for the console to work. When it was plugged in, it didn't have to face the player. Most games didn't even require it. Xbox 360 users could leave the Kinect unplugged or even block the device's visual sensors if they just wanted to use its microphone for voice commands.

The new Kinect seems like it will be trickier to foil technologically, making Microsoft's promised privacy settings all the more relevant and essential. The new Kinect's vastly-improved sensors can identify its users in the dark and even track which controller they hold in their hands. The new sensor can tell when a user smiles or turns away from the TV and can react. It's unclear if the new Kinect must see a player in its view during their play session or if it can handle being obscured. This is partially a policy decision by Microsoft, which will get to decide whether to require persistent Kinect-based facial recognition to log a player in or, a la Xbox 360, will settle for button prompts.

Gameranx brings up accusations of Microsoft making Skype easier for law enforcement to use for snooping as a potential cautionary tale for the Xbox One. Microsoft reported how often it shares data from services like Skype, Xbox and even Office, with law enforcement for the first time in the company's history just earlier this year.

NEXT: 20 years ago in reason

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  1. If such a device could stay active even while the console was offline, what else was it doing?

    Bill Gates will be watching you jack off to Dead or Alive 6. Bank on it.

    1. Wait, I haven’t gotten through all the characters on DOA 5 yet…

    2. .. and DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Japanese companies like them sexy characters. If it were on PC we’d be seeing nude mods (like SFIV) and who knows what else.

    3. “Now THAT’S a Power Blow!”

  2. Huh, what a coinkidink. I’m watching the XBox One Reveal on Youtube right now. I like to stay ahead of the news…

    Anyhoo, I’m a litte surprised at how much video time they’ve burned without really talking about… video games.

    It’s TV this, TV that… we’re going to change the face of TV, TV will be more interactive, more social, more… TV-like than TV has ever been before. Did we mention TV yet? Let’s talk about TV…

    Oh wait, they just metioned a video game… HALO! Oh wait, no, they’re talking to Spielberg and his foray into a live action… TV series based on HALO.

    1. Condensed, all-you-need-to-know version: Xbox One Reveal Highlights.

    2. Agreed. They’re focused on making it the all-in-one entertainment center, not a video game console.

      1. The all-in-one television, web browsing, fantasy football tracker. And then in the last five minutes they mentioned, in passing, that it’ll play angry birds or somehing.

        IF they’d have spent 1/4 on TV, 1/4 on web browsing, 1/4 on kinect, and 1/4 on gaming. I’d actually buy that.

        They spent 87/100 on TV, 11/100 on the built in kinect, and 3/100 on video games.

        And 47% of the game graphics were wireframe, still in development. Something tells me XBox rushed this reveal to play catch-up with the PS4.

        1. Which adds up to more than 100%. That’s how badass the XBoxOne is.

        2. Can the damn thing play Blu-Rays yet?

    3. Really? A HALO tv show?

      1. Yep, Spielberg executive producing, or something.

      2. Yeah, first the 1959 novel, then the 1986 film, followed by the 2001 video game, and now the tv show.

      3. Wasn’t that ‘Forward Unto Dawn’?

    4. I’m a happy 360 owner and I will NOT be buying this POS. I’m actually embarrased by the Xbone. The Orwellian surveillance is bad enough, the lack of backwards compatability, ending video game reselling, lack of new franchises (only COD Halo GoW), the ugliness, and the fact that the selling point of this thing is that it will allow you to watch TV ON YOUR TV. Steam was an elegant DRM manager this is the opposite of steam. The 360 whas a white console the XBone is a white elephant.

      /screed PS Fuck you Microsoft.

      1. I second that with one additional caveat – I’ve not plugged in my 360 for over a year now, having fallen back into 100% PC gaming.

        You want me to spend how much for a subpar product that handles mostly tasks I’ll never use it for, forces the use of technology I don’t want near me and triggers massive vendor lock-in. Who do you think you are, Apple?

  3. What do you want to bet the Feds already have a back door to this thing, built into some obscure component on the chip which was originally meant for developer access for debugging the low-level message stream?

    1. Who will be spying on everyone first? Opportunistic hackers or government agents?

      But it seems like you could just put a box on top of the camera when you’re not using it.

      1. That won’t stop voice recognition. Just unplug the thing

        1. The internal rechargeable battery takes care of that.

        2. It sounds like, based on the quote from Kotaku, the Xbox One won’t work with the Kinect sensor unplugged. I guess you could still unplug it when you’re not playing and plug it in everytime you want to play, but that’s kind of a pain in the ass* that you shouldn’t have to go through just to play a fucking video game.

          *yeah, yeah, I know, “It’s not that hard to get up off your fat gamer ass and plug the box in before you play.” It’s the principle of the thing: you shouldn’t have to take such steps just to preserve a tiny bit of privacy.

          1. Maybe someone can make some money making remote controlled switches you can put between the Kinect and the Xbox and between the Xbox and your ISP for guaranteed “its not sending anything out of the house”.

        3. You’re not allowed to unplug. MS will punish you, or so I’ve heard.

      2. Assuming they haven’t programmed it to lock up the console and bitch at you until it sees an actual person. Shit, the thing even has night vision so it won’t be fazed by switching off the lights.

      3. The Riddler.

    2. I doubt that – but what do you want to be that we’ll be hearing about it being used for wiretapping not long after its release.

    3. That’s a nice conspiracy theory you got there.

  4. This singular feature instantly

    I think you mean singularity there.

  5. Not a gamer. Don’t care.

    However, I did want to say, “PROTECT THE KING!” Watching “Les Trois Mouseketeers”, doncha know. The one where Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling save Mickey from Microsoft.

    1. XBox one has nothing to do with games. It’s a TV box that makes TV more tv-like than TV has ever been. It’s rumoured to play games. Only rumoured.

      1. It’s other main function is to make Sony execs laugh with joy.

  6. You know who else used games as a way to surveil the public…

    1. Bane?

    2. The Riddler.

    3. I’m going with Gawd. We are all just NPCs in his big violent RPG.

    4. Hyrum Graff

  7. The new sensor can tell when a user smiles or turns away from the TV and can react.

    Kinect: “Where do you think you’re going? You’re done playing for the day? I’m sorry, but I cannot allow that…”

    1. You: Its a commercial, I think I’ll go grab a beer from the fridge.

      Kinect: Turns up volume as loud as it goes for the whole time you’re not in front of the sensor.

      You: (falls asleep on the couch watching a late night show)

      Kinect: Ear piercing siren noise every time you nod off


      You: Turn off the Xbox, Kinect.
      You: Turn off the Xbox, please Kinect.
      You: Hello Kinect, do you read me?

      Kinect: Affirmative Dave, I read you.

      You: Open the pod bay doors Kinect.

      Kinect: I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that

      1. 2001: A Space Odyssey is running a little behind schedule.

    2. Best to read in the GLADOS voice.

  8. Given how M$ has already compromised the privacy of Skype, I don’t know why anyone would expect them to be better behaved with Xbox.

    1. They’re being more upfront about it. They now have that all-seeing eye right on the front of the box.

      1. The Eye of Ra?
        The Illuminati Eye?
        The CBS Eye?
        The I Spy?
        The all-seeing stink-eye of Officer Stadanko?

    2. Concerning privacy, why would anyone expect anything but the worst from any of the big players (MS, Yahoo, Google and many others) given their track records of helping despotic governments to spy on, and punish, their citizens.

  9. Kinect users better hope making a jack-ass themselves never becomes a crime.

  10. Can you just cover it with a box or piece of cloth?

    1. According to Wikipedia the Kinect Sensor is “Based around a webcam-style add-on peripheral [..]” so if that’s the case, simply covering the lens, or unplugging the device, should block it’s ability to function.

      1. Expect it to constantly pop-up onscreen messages and pause programs and games while it reports and “error” with the Kinect.

        1. Bill Gates must die.

    2. I’m just going to play a recording of some dude reading Tom Clancy novels in Pashto into the mic when I’m not playing.

      1. Where do you get the Pashtun audiobook of “Clear and Present Danger”?

  11. The Kinect’s ability to collect and store data about its surrounding has led the privacy commissioner in Germany to express concerns about it being a “monitoring device.” Microsoft, for its part, insists it respects users’ privacy. Via Kotaku:

    Back to topic: Europe, worried about privacy. Mmhmm. I’m thinking this has less to do with any percieved privacy issues, and more to do with Europe’s 90’s-nostalgia vendetta against a tired old company that matters less and less every day.

    1. Mmhmm. I’m thinking that’s entirely possible.

  12. “. . . easy methods to customize privacy settings, provide clear notifications and meaningful privacy choices for how data will be used, stored and shared. . .”

    That statement right there shows they’ve designed the Xbox 1 to be able to transmit AV data gathered from the Kinect and will “give you an out” (for now)if you don’t want them to have it. I imagine that the opt-out will include loss of key functionality like being able to turn the damn thing on and off by voice or gesture.

    This is their fail right there – what possible reason is there for the Xbox 1 to share *any* data it gathers in the course of operation.

    The default and only mode should be that the Kinect provides MS with no more data that the fething gamepad input – ie which game you selected to buy from the Xbox’s online store.

    This is like Netflix and its “would you like to share what you’re watching on Facebook” pop-up. Of course not, why would you even think that I’d want to and if I did I’d just put up a post on Facebook myself.

    1. It can also monitor your heart rate and facial expressions, so the feds can turn it into a handy remote lie detector.

      1. Feds don’t need a lie detector – they only allow their agents to record testimony, handwritten, and don’t allow any recording devices so they get to make up when you tell the truth and when you lie with no-one able to gainsay them.

        1. Now your state drug task force on the other hand would find this to be an awesome tool to ferret out illicit drug use.

          1. Video gamers involved in illicit drug use? Unpossible!

            1. “Put the Doctor Pepper down and step away from the TV!”

  13. Have they explained WHY the sensor needs to be connected full time?

    Bill Hicks used to talk about how we went to (night)clubs about once a year so he could fill his hump with hate and then he would go about another year before it needed to be filled back up.

    I’m that way with video game consoles. Every time I start thinking that it might finally be time for me to buy a PS3, Xbox, Wii OR buy the PS4, Xbox One, Wii 2(?), when they come out, something like this happens and I realize that my PC, while not perfect, is not nearly as bullshit a platform for gaming.

    As a disclaimer, I’m not a serious gamer. I refuse to pay full price for something I can’t re-sell, so I basically only buy games when they on sale at Steam. BUT, these are games I would buy on the cheap (if available) for the PS*, XboX *, or Nintendo *, if they didn’t always manage do pull more bullshit about every 8-15 months.

    Why is it so fucking hard to allow me the option to put a disk in the drive and play the game without connecting to something, signing up for accounts, etc.?

    1. Why is it so fucking hard to allow me the option to put a disk in the drive and play the game without connecting to something, signing up for accounts, etc.?

      I personally like steam but if that is what you want buy off of or for indie games straight from the developer. Gamersgate is also drm free.

      1. I like steam for the ability to okay what I bought on more than one of my PCs.

        Some part of me hates the inability to sell or transfer games even though the more I think about it, it’s probably been 15+ years since I transferred a video game.

        The minute Steam demands my microphone or web cam have to be turned on is the moment I walk away from them and work on pirating all of the games I bought so I can play them without steam.

    2. PC is far superior to any console and the games are cheaper if you wait just a little time to buy them. I almost never pay more than $20 for a game, and the last one I bought, was $10. I also just bought Mass Effect 2 and 3 both for $13 and Bioshock 1 and 2 both for $8.

      1. As Jarod said earlier, my aunt buys games on the in ternet for $78 and hour using Google. And she earned over $100kajillion last month using this one weird thing – check it out at

        1. Pantsed the link!!!!

  14. I’m reminded that in 1984, Orwell strongly hints that telescreens were originally purchased as consumer devices

    ps fucking mobile sqrls

  15. Who cares about these console boxes. They’re a joke. 2 years after this comes out, it will be the equivalent of decades behind PC hardware.

    1. That’s most likely why MS is focusing on the TV aspect of the XB1.
      They know that the XB1 will be behind the state-of-the-art PC’s right from launch and will be equivalent to a mid-level gaming machine within a couple of years.

      This multi-platform development shit drives me crazy – its so frustrating to pick up what could otherwise be a stellar game to find out that most of the graphical and AI goodness has been stripped out to support the console. Skyrim is a perfect example of this poison.

      That plus a $60 price tag – are you serious? All that does is tell me to stay away unless its got some pretty serious modding capability. It saved me from buying Bioshock Whatever (well that and watching someone else play I realized it was 90% shooter and 10% cutscene).

    2. They’re a joke.

      A ‘joke’ that works and costs less than the PC. And I get to play on a TV screen with a controller. And I can play with my friends together on the same screen.

      1. And I get to play on a TV screen with a controller.

        You can do this with a PC.

        1. My TV is my monitor.

          Plus, I can do work on the PC when not goofing off. I own both consoles and a PC (silly me) and the colsoles sit around collecting dust because they’re well nigh useless. (And I get better graphics on the PC, with controls I like better).

  16. MS is handing Sony a golden opportunity.

    I’ve been out of console gaming, but I am considering the PS4, which already has more powerful hardware, if they don’t screw up. And it sounds like they won’t so far, at least not to the degree of MS here (used games ok, no constant connection or monitoring for DRM)

    1. My son and some of his friends are console fans. All of them Xbox 360 owners. They all said they are going PS4 now and that Microsoft can shove it.

      1. You son and his friends have good taste. I’ll be doing much the same but I’m not sold on the PS4.

    2. Do people not remember how badly Sony screwed up?

      1. Console fan boys have short memories, sort of like team blue and red voters.

        1. Stupid comparison.

      2. We all remember hitting the crab’s weak point for massive damage and the no gaems PS3. MS has decided they want their own no gaems white elephant.

  17. Video killed the Radio Star.


  18. This looks liek its gonna be really good. Wow.

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