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Microsoft Sends Mixed Messages on Xbox One Kinect Privacy

By - Source: CVG | B 14 comments

Microsoft may or may not sell your personal data to third-party advertisers.

Last week, Microsoft Director of Product Planning Albert Penello assured upcoming Xbox One customers that the Kinect sensor will not be used as part of the NSA's surveillance, nor will it be used to collect personal data for third-party advertisers. On the advertising issue, Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP-marketing and strategy for Microsoft, indicates otherwise.

For starters, let's take a short recap. Back in May, Peter Schaar, Germany's federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, noted that the Xbox One at the time continuously records personal information about the user including reactions and emotions, which could possibly be sold to third parties. The observation came during the time when Edward Snowden revealed that Microsoft is one of many tech companies that provides personal data to state officials. Even more, Microsoft was discovered to have provided email and Skype details to the NSA.

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Following that, a former Microsoft privacy advocate revealed his new distrust for the company after reading reports of mass surveillance by the NSA. Microsoft was then revealed shortly thereafter to have handed out personal information to Australian government agents in the first half of 2013. Needless to say, Microsoft's issues over privacy weren't looking good, and in a new era of mistrust, deceit and government conspiracies, upcoming Xbox One customers want to know if their new console with an "all seeing eye" will spy on them in the dark for the government and provide info to third-party advertisers.

Naturally, Microsoft wants to make big bucks this holiday season with the Xbox One. The company eventually caved in to consumer complaints about the constant Internet connection, and then later allowed customers to use their new console without the Kinect sensor plugged in. The device can see in the dark, it can keep an ear open for voice commands, and can track a heart rate simply by looking at the user's face. Having this camera plugged in and on "standby" at all times was a little creepy.

"Kinect can recognize your face and log you in automatically," Penello said in a Q&A response on NeoGAF. "There could be some cool features we could enable if we stored that data in the cloud, like being able to be auto-recognized at a friend's. I get asked for that feature a lot. But, for privacy reasons, your facial data doesn't leave the console."

As for the whole targeted advertisement aspect, he denies that Microsoft is working on such a plan. "We have a lot more interesting and pressing things to dedicate time towards. It was an interview done speculatively, and I'm not aware of any active work in this space," he said, referring to an interview done earlier this year speculating that personal information could be sold to third parties. "If something like that ever happened, you can be sure it wouldn't happen without the user having control over it. Period."

Yet Yusuf Mehdi explained in a presentation to the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference on Saturday morning that Microsoft will offer Xbox One data to advertisers. He also explained how this data and the actual process of collecting that data will re-shape marketing.

"We are trying to bridge some of the world between online and offline," Mehdi said in his 'Winning the Game: Xbox Marketing' presentation. "We have a pretty unique position at Microsoft because of what we do with digital, as well as more and more with television because of Xbox. Its early days, but we're starting to put that together in more of a unifying way, and hopefully at some point we can start to offer that to advertisers broadly."

After the speech, one marketer told AdAge that this new biometric data about what's going on in the living room is "unprecedented information about how people engage with TV advertising."

"I'll say this - we take a lot of heat around stuff we've done and I can roll with it," Penello said. "Some of it is deserved. But preventing Kinect from being used inappropriately is something the team takes very seriously."

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  • 4 Hide
    clonazepam , October 8, 2013 11:41 AM
    A couple guys sitting around at a NSA office... "heh that guy just farted, look at his face" (a second later) "oh damn his wife's leaving the room!"
  • 1 Hide
    jhansonxi , October 8, 2013 11:47 AM
    There is value in the data. Nielsen ratings are the currency of advertisers but they have many limitations:

    I suspect that many Xbox One owners will simply cover Kinect up.
  • -4 Hide
    irish_adam , October 8, 2013 11:50 AM
    People need to stop trying to blow kinect up into a big privacy invasion. They wont be recording you which is what everyone seems to be trying to scare you into thinking. I mean can you imagin the bandwidth that would take up for starters? let alone storage of all that footage.

    I mean even if the NSA did make themselves a back door so they could spy on xbox users, what would be the point? do you know the man power needed to spy on those millions of users? unless you're some kind of international arms dealer/terrorist what makes you think they give a shit about watching you wank off to tomb raider?
  • Display all 14 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    ubercake , October 8, 2013 11:55 AM
    Most people that complain about this will also rant on their facebook page about it while group texting their friends on the android phone (google). All of these are sources by which they voluntarily give out personal info. Even if you think it's private, Google or facebook is selling the info (you have to read the fine print). Google is an information collection engine. All of those free services (ie phone navi through Google maps) are at the expense of your information being sold.

    It sounds like they will be selling certain information to third parties just as any game company does on a PC or console when you check the 'accept' button on install.
  • 2 Hide
    clonazepam , October 8, 2013 12:08 PM
    I'm not a buyer, but I imagined putting tape over the camera if it had to be plugged in. I still don't understand how any of them could think an always on camera in the living room isn't creepy.
  • 2 Hide
    clonazepam , October 8, 2013 12:09 PM
    I agree with everything you've said ubercake, I'm having fun with all the conspiracy.
  • -2 Hide
    clonazepam , October 8, 2013 12:10 PM
    I agree with everything you've said ubercake, I'm having fun with all the conspiracy.
  • -1 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , October 8, 2013 12:42 PM
    there was no reason why the Kinect should be always plugged in unless it was for monitoring purposes. the fact that ms gave a reason for the Kinect always having to be plugged in at first was nothing more then a bunch of bull. So fo ms can actually that ms could come out with an xbox one model with no Kinect and drop the xbox one price by 100 dollars, because lets face it not every has the room to use the Kinect and furthermore only certain types of games work with the Kinect while others are much more suited for a controller.
  • -1 Hide
    Ryan Klug , October 8, 2013 12:47 PM
    There's no mixed message from Microsoft to XBox users: "Don't use Kinect"
  • 1 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , October 8, 2013 2:46 PM
    It's amazing how bad Microsoft has handled the XBone from start to finish. It's like they designed it specifically to screw the consumer out of money first and foremost - oh and by the way, it plays games too!
  • 0 Hide
    nikolajj , October 8, 2013 11:29 PM
    I can't really see why people care at all. For both the reasons that ubercake commented, and because if for example the NSA have no reason to check up on you, why should they? And IF they did anyway, do you have something to hide, that would make them stay?
  • -1 Hide
    kinggraves , October 9, 2013 12:19 AM
    Of course it's going to spy on you. Of course they aren't going to admit it. They didn't tell you before they sold your skype info to the government either. They only need to secure the initial sale. What are you going to do if next year it updates to being always on, return it? Have fun with your $50 trade in at Gamestop. Privacy is something that many people overprotect, the government doesn't care if the average person picks their nose and if that info is sold to advertisers you'll only have more ads targeted to your nosepicking tastes. That doesn't mean that people who DO need to protect their security shouldn't approach these types of devices cautiously. People who are concerned with security are not just limited to "criminals and terrorists". The government decides who is a criminal and a terrorist, and those criminal offenses could include unpaid parking tickets or civil disobedience. Anyone who disagrees with society or the government can be classified a potential terrorist. The police cannot invade your home without a warrant for good reason, so why would you want to install Uncle Sam's eye in your living room?
  • -1 Hide
    ubercake , October 9, 2013 2:34 AM
    No one has a problem with their cell phone's camera staring them in the face all day either (oh yeah... and these also have microphones on them). No problems or complaints there even though this affects you almost everywhere and not just in your living room. The government can take any of the phone's data any time.

    Additionally, has anyone seen a laptop these days sold without a built-in camera? Why is everyone not hating on laptops no matter what OS is involved? We hear stories of hackers taking control of these cameras and shooting pics and video without the indicator light even coming on. You don't think government agencies would take advantage of these hacks themselves if they needed info on you?

    Further, I wonder when anyone has truly read a privacy agreement that goes along with one of the free games they play that they check the 'agree' button for full system control or even camera control? But oh golly... A camera in a living room that will be even less intrusive than the phone will be chastized. And again the same people complaining are posting their weekend party pics on Facebook or Tweeting about last night's bender.

    At least Xbox will let you know whether it's doing this or not. Right now, it's speculation at best. We could say the same thing for Sony whose camera Eye you don't need because it truly offers little to no functionality other than for video chats.

    Plus with Sony... Does anyone remember how many times Sony's customer DBs have been hacked where they tried to cover up the fact for days before being forced to let anyone know. Talk about your information being leaked not just to corporations, but leaked and sold all over the internet's black market. Does anyone remember how hackers basically continued to pummel Sony's databases and web sites because they were mad about so much information being leaked and because of the sheer amount of info leaked it drove the price of that information down on the black market? Or the PSN being down for days at a time because of the pummeling? I wouldn't put my trust in the PSN.

    We can speculate all we want to here, but I'm going to say if you start reading agreements for all the free apps you use on your phone, tablet or PC, you're going to see you're giving out way more information than you even anticipated, though certain people will continue to have anti-MS agendas and do all they can to discredit everything they're doing. Don't get me wrong... I hate Windows 8 Metro interface on the PC as much as the next guy, but the Xbox One seems like it has a lot to offer from a console standpoint (including Kinect functionality) outside of a simple gaming graphics upgrade which seems to be the Sony PS4's only benefit.
  • 1 Hide
    fykusfire , October 9, 2013 7:18 AM
    Fuck you Microsoft, you are slime.
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