The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee

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Microsoft’s Xbox One Kinect Consumer Privacy Concerns: “You are fully in control of your personal data.”

Microsoft’s Xbox One Kinect Consumer Privacy Concerns: “You are fully in control of your personal data.”

This November, consumers will be able to get their hands on the highly anticipated “next-generation” of gaming consoles from both Microsoft and Sony. The Playstation 4 will be Sony’s fourth gaming console under their Playstation brand, while the Xbox One will be Microsoft’s third. In an effort to both differentiate the Xbox One from the Playstation 4 and encourage software developer adoption of their motion-sensing peripheral — the Xbox One Kinect — Microsoft has opted to ship each Xbox One with the new Kinect at a price point of $500. Amid growing consumer privacy concerns pertaining to allegations of Microsoft’s participation with the NSA’s PRISM program, Microsoft has made a number of attempts to assuage apprehensions of those who see the Xbox One Kinect as nothing more than this year’s best-selling Trojan horse.

Most recently, Ad Age posted an article quoting Microsoft’s VP of marketing and strategy, Yusuf Mehdi, who was speaking at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Phoenix, Arizona on October 5. As originally reported – and apparently interpreted by those in attendance – Mr. Mehdi’s comments regarding Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform as a future outlet for advertisers, as the “holy grail in terms of how you understand the consumer” were apparently misconstrued to mean that biometric data, captured by the Xbox One Kinect, would in some way be accessible to advertisers. Considering the Xbox One Kinect’s impressive biometric capabilities, one could reasonably understand how this particular audience could draw such a conclusion. Ad Age has since then amended their article, reflecting Microsoft’s clarification that Mr. Mehdi’s comments were misunderstood.

While the novelty of playing games with the original Kinect was arguably met with mixed reactions when it launched back in 2010, Microsoft hopes that many of the impressive, yet somewhat alarming, improvements made for its successor will prove to be welcomed additions for both consumers and software developers alike. The Xbox One Kinect boasts a number of new features, including the ability to do the following:

  • Recognize multiple moving subjects – even in the dark, thanks to its 1080p IR camera lens;
  • Distinguish between multiple voices within listening distance; and
  • Detect one’s heart rate.

Unlike its predecessor, this version of the Kinect is designed to always be on. That is, regardless of whether the Xbox One is turned off or being used in any capacity, the Kinect – in what some have likened to Hal 9000’s omnipresence in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 release, Space Odyssey 2001 — is always there, listening and watching for an audible command.

Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to reassure consumers that they “are in control of [their own] personal data” when it comes what the Xbox One’s Kinect shares, there is no denying the existence of the risk of misuse and inadvertent disclosures. According to Microsoft, there are several privacy settings that Kinect owners can use to control how their biometric data will be used, which includes pausing the Kinect or disabling its ability to start the console via voice commands. Moreover, Microsoft states that biometric data collected by the Kinect – videos, photos, and yes, even your heart rate – “will not leave your Xbox One without your explicit permission.”

The question is, however, what happens if system vulnerabilities are discovered and exploited? Moreover, beyond the hacking community’s various motivations for targeting the Kinect’s controls, to what extent are consumers willing to forgo the privacy of their living room for the utility of Microsoft’s next-gen console?

Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming console, including the new Kinect, is scheduled to be released on November 22.