Kinect alarms privacy watchdogs, but can be deactivated

By Brenna Hillier
27 May 2013 23:35 GMT

The creepy always-listening feature of the Xbox One’s new Kinect has raised the hackles of privacy watchdogs in Germany and Australia, but Microsoft has said the feature can be disabled by those unnerved by machine surveillance.

Since revealing the Xbox One and Kinect’s ability to switch on at any time in response to voice command, and its ability to capture all kinds of video data during use, privacy concerns have been raised regarding how Microsoft might collect, transmit and use said data.

“Microsoft’s new Xbox meets the definition of a surveillance device under some Australian laws, so they need to be upfront and tell customers whether anyone else can intercept their information or remotely access their device,” Civil Liberties Australia director Tim Vines told NineMSN.

“People should have the ability to turn off the camera or microphone, even if it limits the functionality of the machine. If Microsoft doesn’t allow that, then people should vote with their wallets and skip the next Xbox.”

Also via NineMSN, Berlin’s federal data protection commissioner, Peter Schaar, expressed similar sentiments while speaking to Spiegel Online.

“The Xbox One continuously records all sorts of personal information about me. My reaction rates, my learning or emotional states. These are then processed on an external server, and possibly even passed on to third parties,” he said.

“The fact that Microsoft could potentially spy on my living room is merely a twisted nightmare.”

It’s not clear that the Xbox One and Kinect do actually record and pass on this sort of information, as Microsoft’s messaging to date has been somewhat confusing. But Jeff Henshaw, the group program manager for Xbox Incubation, told CNET users will be able to switch the camera off.

“If you want privacy, we’ll give you modes that ensure your privacy,” he said.

“We will have something similar for the Kinect with Xbox One. The system is designed to have Kinect be an integral part of the experience. It’s not the case where you’ll be able to remove the camera altogether. But you’ll be able to put the system in modes where you can be completely secure about the fact that the camera is off and can’t see you.”

Henshaw also directed users to existing privacy policies for the original Kinect; a detailed FAQ is available online.

Microsoft boss Phil Harrison said recently that the Kinect won’t be used to snoop.

Thanks, woe, SplatteredHouse.

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