Microsoft Reverses Itself on Xbox One Camera Requirement Because of NSA Spying Revelations

XBox One due out in November


what could the nsa want to use the kinect to peek in on?
Illusive Photography/

When it was first announced, Microsoft's Xbox One yielded a fair amount of privacy concerns over requiring its Kinect camera system to be always-on, this before the latest revelations about the NSA showed just how cooperative Microsoft and companies like it have been in the government's efforts to collect data. Even then, the more important issue was government snooping and not the new consumer technologies the government would try to use for its collection purposes; as Peter Suderman noted, "communications technology is always going to present opportunities for worrisome government snooping."

The shutdown of two email providers over their unwillingness to comply with government data requests shows how difficult it is for companies to prevent privacy breaches even when they want to—the two email companies are prohibited from speaking out about what it was the government wanted from them, just as Microsoft and the other companies involved in the NSA's Prism program are. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, then, that Microsoft has finally dropped the requirement that the camera be connected for the Xbox One to work. Microsoft had previously dropped requirements that would prevent offline gameplay and make the sale of used games more difficult in response to pressure from potential customers. Microsoft's most recent about-face illustrates why President Obama and other national security state enthusiasts have been so upset about the disclosures that revealed the level of the NSA's snooping. The companies involved rely on a level of trust from their consumers, one that's blatantly betrayed in the context of the NSA's massive data collection programs. Microsoft and other companies have sought permission from the government to disclose more specifically the nature of the government's demands in an apparent bid to illustrate that the data sharing is not voluntary. Dropping the Xbox One's Kinect requirement is an attempt to win back customers spooked not by the new technologies but by the way the government demands they be repurposed to serve its own snooping.