Microsoft Sends Mixed Messages on Xbox One Kinect Privacy

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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Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more.