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.
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.
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.
Naturally, 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!
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