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Kinect 2 will spy on you 24/7 … NOT! And why Sony isn’t gamers’ saviour

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Well, that was one crazy week, wasn’t it? We had the Xbox ONE reveal on Tuesday and since then quite a lot of people have been really angry (to put it lightly) about all sorts of rumours about the new console floating around. But among those rumours there’s one in particular that seems to have made some rather important people come out and voice their concerns. That rumour is, of course, the Kinect 2 being required to be connected for the console to run, and always listening to whatever’s going on in the room – just in case the user wants to turn on the console using voice.

This is undeniably true – there’s no doubt about that, as it has already been confirmed by Microsoft themselves. That’s one of the things that got so many people really irate. And rightfully so – I mean, surely, nobody wants Microsoft to spy on them 24/7 – that much is obvious. The lack of any official statements on that very issue from Microsoft hasn’t really helped either.

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Naturally, when Microsoft denies to comment on anything, people just tend to stick to the worst-sounding rumour they can find. When I think about it – this is kind of sad, as this sort of situation is somewhat ‘exclusive’ to Microsoft. I really don’t know why gamers have a tendency to view Sony as some kind of knight on a white horse coming to save them from the tyranny of Microsoft. Especially since it’s not even clear what their stance on DRM for used games really is (as mentioned in one of my previous articles). And not even the recent gamers’ movement to ‘force’ Sony into abandoning any form of pre-owned game DRM is going to change things (mark my words).

So many people tend to think that Sony is listening to the backlash that Microsoft is getting and they are basing decisions off of that. This, my friends, couldn’t be further from the truth. Obviously, some of Sony’s employees are responding to gamers’ tweets with reassuring replies like “we hear you”, but I guess “we hear you” isn’t necessarily the same as “we aren’t implementing any form of DRM in PS4”, is it?

Sure, I absolutely agree that both Sony and Microsoft should at least hear out what some of the gamers have to say, but flooding them with stupid Twitter hashtags isn’t the way to do it. It’s the laziest form of slacktivism there is! Right up there with ‘feeding children’ by liking some photo on Facebook. If you really care about the issue – do something meaningful, show some effort! Send a letter (and I don’t mean email!) to Sony HQ in your country! One physical letter means a lot more than even a 1000 stupid hashtagged tweets, because it shows you ACTUALLY made an effort and are seriously concerned!

However, at this point in time there’s not really that much wiggle-room for both companies when it comes to protecting the publishers’ interest anymore. In my opinion, the best thing both companies can do at this point is to simply shift the blame – by coming out and saying that this issue will be handled by publishers on a game-to-game basis. And if publishers will have a choice on both consoles – well, guess what their decision is going to be … Exactly!

Console makers might care if you hate them or not (but I’d still go with “not really” – just to be on the safe side), but publishers most definitely don’t. Why? Because they know most gamers will buy their games anyway – as witnessed by so many past situations when gamers were declaring they’ll most definitely NOT buy this or that game (BLOPS2, anyone? Hah – most of you probably have already forgotten about that ‘internet-wide’ boycott!) … and then they did it anyway. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m ABSOLUTELY all about the “vote with your wallet” thing, but the sad truth is – most of those hating and raging gamers just cave-in and publishers simply know they can get away with a lot of things. They’ve got their proof right in front of them – sales figures never lie. That’s all I have to say about that issue.

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Whew – that was quite a side-rant, wasn’t it? OK, back to the issue at hand – Kinect 2 spying on you, your family, the family dog and even the goldfish.

As I said earlier – Microsoft already confirmed that Kinect 2 will be, in fact, required for the console to run. This very issue has raised the prickles of privacy regulators in Australia and Germany. Just because some of you may accuse me of pulling stuff out of my ass (ewww, you perverts!) – here’s what they specifically had to say about that:

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. 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.

These words were spoken by Tim Vines (Civil Liberties Australia director) in an interview done by NineMSN. Then there was Peter Schaar (Berlin’s federal data protection commissioner) who expressed similar sentiments in an interview for 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. The fact that Microsoft could potentially spy on my living room is merely a twisted nightmare.

 

While it’s still not clear if the console and Kinect 2 do actually record and pass on this sort of information, there have already been some definite statements from Microsoft on the issue of privacy regarding the usage of Kinect 2 (and you said MS hasn’t been giving any definite answers, shame on you!). Namely – Jeff Henshaw (group program manager for Xbox Incubation) stated that:

If you want privacy, we’ll give you modes that ensure your privacy. 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.

He also pointed users to existing privacy policies for the original Kinect which are said to be just as accurate for the new Kinect. Finally, there’s our unquestionable (wink, wink) star – Phil Harrison. I realize, at this point, we shouldn’t really go by ANYTHING this guy says … but just for the kicks, here’s what he had to say to a Eurogamer interviewer about the same issue:

We take it very seriously. We aren’t using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word ‘Xbox on’ and then switch on the machine, but we don’t transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that.

Well, there you go – straight from the horse’s mouth – Kinect 2 won’t be spying on you and you can even turn the camera off entirely if you want to. Sure, the microphone will be always on, regardless, but let me tell you why even that shouldn’t be that much of a concern for us. Think about it this way – with all due respect, I seriously doubt most of you would have to say anything interesting enough for Microsoft to listen in on you at all times. There that, but also – if they were listening and that fact would came out – they’d have a MASSIVE lawsuit on their hands (and an even bigger one in Europe – EU is fierce when it comes to privacy measures) and they’d have their asses sued to Hell and back. You can call Microsoft many things, but ‘stupid’ is most definitely not one of them. OK, but what about the hackers then? Surely, if they hacked XBL they’d be able to listen to and even watch every user’s direct live feed, right? Technically, yes – that is true. But there are just a few ‘holes’ in that theory – think about it, the first Kinect has been on the market for almost 3 years now … and how many hackers made their way into XBL? That’s right – none (and I sure as hell know they definitely tried). There’s practically no way any hackers could hack into XBL without being sooner or later (rather sooner than later, mind you) discovered and kicked out. So in the absolute worst case scenario – they might have access to a few dozen streams for a few minutes at best. How much will they be able to see in that time? Furthermore, that’s REALLY unlikely to happen. Why? Substantial part of those $60 you pay each year for Xbox LIVE Gold goes towards security. Want proof? Here’s one – Xbox LIVE has been around for 11 years now (since 2002 when it launched on the first Xbox) and it’s never been hacked. Not even once.

k4Naturally, if you’re worried about hackers gaining access to the Kinect 2 camera and microphone – take this into consideration: if they REALLY wanted to specifically target you to listen in on, why would they try doing that in the most complicated and difficult way possible? You do have a webcam (in your laptop/tablet at least), don’t you? And what about a smartphone? All of those things have their own microphones and cameras (heck, smartphones usually have two of those … AND you always carry them around in your pocket). All of those things are infinitely easier to hack into, so why the hell would some hackers even want to try hacking XBL just to spy on you? Think about that.

Feel free to leave a comment below and tell us what you think about all that hubbub after the reveal! I’d really love to know what YOU think!

Over and out,
lashman

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About the Author

lashman

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He considers himself an all around digital artist. He likes to discover new and experimental ways of completing projects. He’s always considered himself a generalist when it comes to 3D and VFX. He enjoys the changing of hats on a project to fill in gaps on a production. With over a decade of experience using all sorts of graphics software his energetic attitude assures that projects are completed on time and exceed expectations. He's also an avid gamer ... and self-proclaimed guitar god ;)


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  • Arjun

    we don’t transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be
    personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that.

    This really bothered me. If I buy a console next gen, it’ll be the PS4. If only because it’ll pack more power.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      ok, sure, by all means – go with PS4 :) that’s your decision and I’m definitely not going to try to convince you to get X1. All I wanted is to try showing people that – contrary to what some of them might think – X1 isn’t the Antichrist ;) that’s all

    • Fweds

      @ Arjun

      Odd that you are so bothered by it that you then declare your getting a PS4 from Sony “Who Have Been Hacked” and the console also comes with a camera!!! words fail me.

      I bet You wont see any difference in the games between the two consoles but you will see that the PS4 is more limited in the other things it can do beside games which could also give it a lot shorter lifespan.
      Console game sales are in decline.due to competition from mobiles, pad etc any next gen consoles that only offers games and doesn’t have much wont last long.

      • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

        yeah, that’s right – a lot of people just seem to forget that each PS4 will also be shipping with a PS Eye camera … strange

  • Thomas Anthony Ramirez

    This makes me happy in places I did not expect.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      ummm … ok ;) … and now I don’t know whether I should be flattered or horrified :P lol

      • Thomas Anthony Ramirez

        LoL relax I was just messing around. XD

        • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

          whew, that was close ;) lol :) nah, just kidding :D thanks for the comment anyway!! :D it’s good to know someone actually reads all that stuff I write :D

  • locsphere

    Its not spying on you? Hmmm good to hear. Unless of course there was something written right in the terms of service that says they can monitor/spy on you. But where could we find that?

    WAIT HERE IT IS!

    Sections 9 and 12 of the updated terms of service are particularly scary :

    If you accept the agreement, you “expressly authorize and consent to us accessing or disclosing information about you, including the content of your communications, in order to: (a) comply with the law or respond to lawful requests or legal process; (b) protect the rights or property of Microsoft, our partners, or our customers, including the enforcement of our agreements or policies governing your use of the Service; or (c) act on a good faith belief that such access or disclosure is necessary to protect the personal safety of Microsoft employees, customers, or the public.”

    Also scary? they reserve the right to monitor your voice and chat sessions using their new camera system. Personal privacy? Not so personal, not so private.

    • locsphere

      But all they have to do is deny that they are (Despite it being in the terms of service) and everybody is like. Oh okay!

      • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

        you do, of course, realize that those terms of service have already been in place for almost 3 years, right? they haven’t changed a bit since they introduced the first Kinect … and tell me, please – exactly how many “OMG, Microsoft is spying on me, they already locked up my neighbour” scandals have you heard of over the past 3 years?

        • locsphere

          …I was seriously without words when you typed this… One second letme read this again… Yup… Its just as dumb as the first time I read it. SIT DOWN BOY. let me do some critical thinking for you.

          1. Of course it has been around since kinect 1… Why are you asking me if I realize that. The question you should be asking here is, if a company in which they state do not use a device capable of spying on you do they reserve the right to do it?

          2. Scandal? You are seriously pulling the I have never heard of them solving said crime with it, which would bring up serious questions of privacy, but because it hasn’t happened. It is literally out of sight out of mind. If X has not happen then they are not doing Y.

          The bottom line boy, is if they have the ability and reserve the right to do it. They have done so for a reason. Not for black helicopters helping the government reasons (Although they reserve the right to share that data upon request of the government.) They want to use this technology to monitor your living room to detect how many people are watching the television. If more than so many people are watching 1 television they want to keep nickle and diming you by having you buy a different license. What a way to make more money off of something you already paid for… Did you just buy the Avengers outright? Well that was 19.99, but now Kinect has detected 5 people in a room. Error message this is now a public display and you will need to buy Avengers again with a public license which is 49.99 for 24 hours you play it for the public. Sound stupid? Well they filed a patent for that.

          If you don’t see that when someone has the ability to do something and says they won’t it always slowly but surely does what is clearly has already stated in the terms of service.

          The terms of service could be as old as the Xbox itself. WHY DOES THAT MATTER? The fact is we have caught it and disagree with it. It is surveillance and we as a consumer should not tolerate it. Our devices should not be watching us on any level. Not with sound, not with cameras, nothing. Not for marketing purposes, licensing purposes, or to comply with the government. Maybe you have nothing to hide, but just because you can’t know if they’re watching you doesn’t mean they have you in your boxers on a server somewhere. Next thing you know you’re getting targeted adds for your favorite HANES boxers!

          I don’t care if it has modes for privacy. It shouldn’t even be considered an option for them to utilize.

          • Howard Hughes

            @locsphere, you’re absolutely right. The Xbox One is a serious threat to personal information security. And people overlook the fact that the machine can misinterpret phrases like “I’m putting a writeup of the security holes for the new ‘Xbox on’ my anonymous blog.” It will be running with full functionality, listening and watching because of a small slip up.

            Luckily you can use IP and voice masking to modify the outgoing feeds so that MS can’t track you as easily. Also, camera distorting light frequencies will help protect you from being accurately recorded. Unfortunately most consumers won’t be doing this, but these simple tricks will allow you to use the new system while simultaneously thwarting MS’s thinly-veiled data mining.

            I’ve also manually removed the mic and camera from my smartphone and laptop (take that lashman) and I personally refuse to use any commercial browsers because of the way Google has infiltrated search history technology. I browse exclusively using Linux powershell by generating a virtual, UI-free “browser”. I also hack into the html for TOS agreements and remove the aforementioned clauses prior to accepting them, in addition to lining the walls of my apartment with tin foil.

            While technically people can still see me physically (if and when I leave my apartment), I hope to completely erase my own identity by the end of the year. I suggest you do the same.

          • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

            no offence, seriously … but that’s what I call being extremely paranoid. Unless you really DO have something to hide, that is …

          • Howard Hughes
          • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

            great … a link … and?

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      great … I commend you for the ability to paste extensive portions of text from lazygamer.com – since I guess you haven’t even read the TOS yourself. And I also guess you generally don’t read TOS of any services you might be using, right? How about that Yahoo mail you’re using? Let’s just look at their TOS.

      Oh, here’s a good one: “By using the Services, you consent to allow Yahoo’s automated systems to scan and analyse all incoming and outgoing communications content sent and received from your account (such as Mail and Messenger content including instant messages and SMS messages)”.

      I won’t even try pasting any more juicy snippets from other TOS – like Sony’s EyeToy for example … or PSN … or gmail … or … well, pretty much everything that uses Internet in one way or another. Guess what, they’re all pretty much the same – only the wording is a little bit different. So, if you REALLY need to be that paranoid – you should just disconnect everything you have from the Internet, and maybe throw out all of your electronic gadgets … you know, just to be 100% sure.

      You want to know what that thing you pasted from lazygamer REALLY means? It’s just legal jargon saying that if you are at fault of breaking the TOS by participating in some ILLEGAL
      activity, they reserve the right to inform authorities. And you know what? 99.9% of ALL TOS agreements have the exact same thing in them.

      Not because they ABSOLUTELY want to spy on you (oh yeah, I’m sure they just can’t wait to start watching you eat dinner or jack off in front of the TV!) … but because they just want to cover their own ass if anyone of their users starts doing some seriously illegal shit using XBL or Kinect.

      Trust me, you REALLY aren’t that important or interesting to be spied on … none of us are! Not to mention they’d (Microsoft, that is) have a massive lawsuit on their hands if they ever even attempted that sort of thing. And I’m 100% confident saying that, because the first Kinect has been already out for almost 3 years now, and trust me when I say this: a BUTTLOAD of people have been meddling with it, modding it (just search youtube for “kinect mod” and see what people were doing) and testing it – to see what exactly it can do … and what exactly it sends to MS. Oh, and you know what – if it was as bad as you think it is – we’d already know about it for a loooooooong time now.

      That is all I have to say about this.

      • locsphere

        I have read the original. Assumption is the mother of all screw ups. Why am I going to go back through the terms of service on Xbox 360 or on Xbox.com when someone has conveintly summarized the point in which I wish to make.

        Yahoo: These should bring up flags. no company should have a right to do this stuff.

        Its not that I am important enough to spy on, it is that someone could be that is targeted for reasons other than crimes. We already have seen an IRS scandal which has produced the IRS Admitting they targeted people with different party affiliations and singled them out.

        I did not spend a majority of my life fighting in other countries believing that I was fighting for the constitution and peoples right to privacy being one of them to have it subverted by a corporation with a terms of service agreement. You have a right to be secure in your persons. Just because no one has have gone to trial, has had it used to diminish their character, or had it leaked because of hackers because the information was not destroyed after being collected is ridiculous.

        Why do they reserve the right to monitor you. Has nothing to do with me. WHY do they need to do this to give me a service? Seriously here Lash, if everyone is as lay down and take it up the rear like you. We’re screwed!

        Thank heavens for your reasoning skills

        Your logic.

        They have the ability to spy on me, but they said they won’t: Accepted

        They have me willing put a device which can spy on me has a camera and microphone always on, but they only want to turn on my xbox. Seems legit to me!

        Government before this, after the kinect was released wanted to hire people who could hack the Xbox working for the navy. Unrelated (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/security/us-government-hires-company-to-hack-into-video-game-consoles/11395) – can’t wait for you to point out something like “Did you read the article it says they can’t do it in the US.)

        Rolls eyes People can’t be this stoooooped!

        • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

          sure, they shouldn’t put those things in TOS … in fact, NO COMPANY should …. but that doesn’t mean Microsoft is the only one doing this …. most (if not all) companies have those sorts of things written in their TOS. And as I said before – if you’re assuming (see, I’m not the only one around here) that just because Kinect has a mic and a camera, Microsoft (or hackers) will ABSOLUTELY spy on you, then you really should just cancel your Internet subscription and throw away most of your electronic gadgets. Even your smartphone (if you have one), because pretty much every company has similar sounding terms of service for their services and devices. And your smartphone also has a mic … and not one, but probably two cameras … AND you always carry it with you wherever you go. And so on, and so on, and so on … if you’re going to be paranoid, be paranoid about most companies … don’t just single out Microsoft. That’s all I’ve got to say to you …. I’m not going to reply to any more of your comments … since you’re clearly just trying to insult me with each and every one of them.

  • locsphere

    “We take it very seriously. We aren’t using Kinect to snoop on anybody at all. We listen for the word ‘Xbox on’ and then switch on the machine, but we don’t transmit personal data in any way, shape or form that could be personally identifiable to you, unless you explicitly opt into that.”

    The technology should not even exist. The ability to opt in or out is ridiculous.

    Furthermore when they said. We listen for Xbox on and when we hear it we turn on your machine… So there isn’t even a part of the system that listens it is constantly broadcasting voice to a server and microsoft sends a signal to turn on the machine? ARE YOU FOR REAL?

    We don’t want the ability to even exist. AT ALL! We don’t want any ability for our emotions to be recorded. What couches and pictures we have for “marketing purposes.” WHAT DON”T YOU GET ABOUT THAT?

    My voice if it is monitored at all shoul only be done on site and be exempt of going over the internet at all.

    Microsoft should not be recieving video, audio of me or my home period. If I am redundant it is for a dam reason.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      oh boy … where do I even begin showing you how wrong you are? Oh, I know – how about this: your voice ISN’T RECORDED … and X1 won’t be using Internet to turn itself on when you say “xbox on” (or whatever the command might be)! And where the Hell did you get the idea that “it is constantly broadcasting voice to a server and microsoft sends a signal to turn on the machine”?!?!? Not to mention – Microsoft won’t be receiving any sort of audio or video of you or your home … EVER! even if you choose to opt-in to send USAGE DATA (I suggest you read what exactly is “usage data” regarding Kinect) to Microsoft … do you even realize how MUCH bandwidth and hardware power is required to send raw audio and video streams over the Internet? I’m guessing – not really, since you’re claiming MS will most definitely be doing that!

  • David

    Bravo, I applaud you and this article. I can’t stand the constant hate towards the new Xbox and MS. It’s ridiculous.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      thanks, man!! :) glad you like it! Did you read the new one about game sharing on Xbone? :)

      • David

        Haha, just did. Btw, do you have any idea on as why people hate the Xbox One so much? I mean I understand no console is perfect, but it’s almost like a trend to bash the Xbox. I almost see no opposition towards the PS4 or Sony.

        • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

          because Sony is the knight on a white horse … apparently everyone already forgot that PS3 launched costing $600 and that when people were unhappy saying it’s too much, Ken Kutaragi (their CEO then) told them they could just get a second job if they can’t afford it.

          and yeah – I have no idea why people are hating on MS. Sure – there are a lot of restrictions when it comes to disc-based games … but as I said in the article – if MS had its way – Xbone wouldn’t have a disc-drive at all and be purely digital.

  • RegrettedCoot

    the Xbone (lol) has a natural gift of making people hate it, i was on my dashboard when it got annouced and the moment i saw it i hated, seriously! sounds a bit shallow but i think sony has gone in the right direction and that microsoft has some things to change :)

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      I generally think it’s kind of “trendy” to be hating on ANYTHING Microsoft does nowadays … seriously – they release win8 – people on the Internet hate it … they release windows phone 8 – ditto … they release Surface – they hate it … and now Xbone – yup, they hate it …. I mean – seriously, WTF? it’s not like they’re bad products, they’re not, far from it actually … and yet …

  • tim

    I will take the news for this from Forbes, TechRadar and other valid sources where in the past week it has been revealed that kinect two was patented with the government and nsa is going to use it. Get rid of kinect and drop price and we will talk. Yes playstation plus will be required but it is cheaper than xbox live and it also since it started for a few years now and will continue to do so give free games per month, unlike xbox live who is in trouble now giving away free games for this summer only to do a pathetic attempt to get into the peoples good graces again. I will stick with ps4 and receiving something for my money.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      well then stick with PS4 … no one is saying that you have to buy Xbox ONE. I’m not even trying to convince anyone to buy Xbox ONE. All I’m saying is that much of the stuff people are paranoid about when it comes to Kinect is simply NOT true. Including the “fact” that Kinect 2.0 will be spying on anyone. It won’t … that’s all

  • Tubby

    A very good and informative article. And most of it is logic, I mean, who would even want to spy on you? That’s just stupid.

    • http://robotbrush.com/ lashman

      thanks ;)