Microsoft released a number of official statements today relating to the technology and features inside the Xbox One. Part of that includes details pertaining to the Kinect and the privacy issues related to the device. While most of these privacy issues will continue, Microsoft's statement on the matter is that they're putting the issue entirely in users' control. "You are in control," but to what degree?
Many potential buyers were concerned after it was said the Kinect must be connected to the Xbox One at all times and could not be turned off. That will continue, as yes, the Kinect must always be connected for the console to function. That said, the Kinect's functionality can be almost entirely be turned of, though it's unclear if that means the Kinect itself will be powered down or just unable to respond to requests.
Here's are the major issues that Microsoft has released statements on with relation to the Kinect:
- Personal Data - The Kinect has the ability to record a wide amount of data, "such as videos, photos, facial expressions, heart rate," for a variety of different reasons (that are left unclear). Whether any data leaves your Xbox One is up to your discretion and according to Microsoft will require your, "explicit permission."
Microsoft characterizes "personal data" as interactions with games, like tracking workouts over a period of time or showing facial expressions on a card game. They make no mention of just how much the Kinect is able to record, such as if you're outside of a game sitting on your couch, watching TV or perhaps not even using the Xbox One. How "In Control" we are will heavily depend on knowing what we'll need to maintain control over.
- On, Off, or Paused - Microsoft states clearly that at any time you can pause the Kinect, or say, "Xbox Off," to turn the whole console off. The subtle statement here is that the Kinect does not turn off unless the Xbox is off. However, it appears as if the entirety of the Kinect's functionality can be disabled, even the ability to say "Xbox On" when the console is off. Again, it isn't clear if you can disable the Kinect from actually listening 100% of the time, only that you can disable it reacting to what you're saying.
- What Kinect Sees and Hears - During setup the Xbox One will guide users through setting up "key privacy options". This includes notifications on how your data is being used. "When Xbox One is on and you’re simply having a conversation in your living room, your conversation is not being recorded or uploaded." While the statement in a vacuum is encouraging, it is but one example in a million different scenarios that people are curious to hear about how Kinect interacts with users.
Will Microsoft's statements today decide anything for either consumers or Microsoft itself? Unlikely. What it does do is provide both sides to have a foundation from which to continue this conversation. Before, gamers were both caught up in the sensationalism of the story, rumors and hearsay, while Microsoft was unable to confirm or deny policy decisions without worrying they were being unclear.
That said, I doubt we're going to be hearing the last of people's worries about how intrusive the Kinect will be in homes across the country. Just the idea that we could potentially allow Microsoft to record our data and ship it out to... gaming companies ... advertisers? It's worrisome, especially as news is just breaking that the NSA in the United States has been recording the conversations of millions of innocent Americans.
Evolving into the next-generation of gaming is proving to be a very... uncomfortable process. Expect more news on Microsoft and the Xbox One with its Kinect in the weeks to come.